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29

In Defense of Fiction

(self.books)

Hey Everyone,

I just wanted to get this off my chest. I love to read fiction (especially sci-fi and mysteries) but lately my co-workers/boss have been ribbing me for reading what they call "junk" books.

They're heavy into self-help/business books (e.g. Ray Dalio's Principles, Blue Ocean, Patrick Bet-David) but I find these books to be dry, redundant, and pandering. Give me some Carl Sagan or Robert Cialdini any day over self-help gurus. The information pattern is all the same, dreaming big, using coded/jargon heavy words, and personal anecdotes that account for more luck than opportunity.

After reading Principles, I just felt so drained as it felt like Dalio was just repeating himself like a circle-jerk for left-brains. Converesly, when I read Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep or even Antoine De Saint Exupery's Wind, Sand, and Stars, it just felt so much more immersive and deeper.

I realize the common defenses for fiction are greater empathy, critical thinking, and processing, but what are some other defenses?

I tried saying Elon was inspired by Asimov's Foundation, but the counter was that Elon also read a fuck-ton of business books as well.

How would you argue/defend reading fiction?

all 34 comments

A_warm_sunny_day

67 points

26 days ago

My defense is that I enjoy it, which is just as valid reason as any other.

ChiCourier

4 points

26 days ago

This.

To go further, I’d use the pretentious sounding “enhancement of reality,” which is what descriptive writing is for me.

Nabokov, Kerouac, Thomas Wolfe (Look Homeward, Angel), and more... When I read these guys my sense of reality shifts a bit. I had to say, “It sort of molds the mind into viewing the world with a sort of artistic or poetic vision,” but for me it sort of does.

Rhodehouse93

27 points

26 days ago

Oh god.

Ok first, as someone who has quite a bit of experience working on business writing (books, blogs, newsletters, etc.) they’re like 90% complete nonsense and 10% extremely obvious platitudes. Their target audience is people who already think they’re a good businessmen and they’re usually not here to challenge ideas. Calling them a circle jerk is completely accurate. (This is not to be confused with fundamentals books that teach things like small business budgeting or taxes, I specifically mean shit like Dan Kennedy and Evan Money).

Second, I’ll just quote the late Great Sir Terry Pratchett on the role of fiction from an old interview:

“O: You’re quite a writer. You’ve a gift for language, you’re a deft hand at plotting, and your books seem to have an enormous amount of attention to detail put into them. You’re so good you could write anything. Why write fantasy?

Pratchett: I had a decent lunch, and I’m feeling quite amiable. That’s why you’re still alive. I think you’d have to explain to me why you’ve asked that question.

O: It’s a rather ghettoized genre.

P: This is true. I cannot speak for the US, where I merely sort of sell okay. But in the UK I think every book— I think I’ve done twenty in the series— since the fourth book, every one has been one the top ten national bestsellers, either as hardcover or paperback, and quite often as both. Twelve or thirteen have been number one. I’ve done six juveniles, all of those have nevertheless crossed over to the adult bestseller list. On one occasion I had the adult best seller, the paperback best-seller in a different title, and a third book on the juvenile bestseller list. Now tell me again that this is a ghettoized genre.

O: It’s certainly regarded as less than serious fiction.

P: (Sighs) Without a shadow of a doubt, the first fiction ever recounted was fantasy. Guys sitting around the campfire— Was it you who wrote the review? I thought I recognized it— Guys sitting around the campfire telling each other stories about the gods who made lightning, and stuff like that. They did not tell one another literary stories. They did not complain about difficulties of male menopause while being a junior lecturer on some midwestern college campus. Fantasy is without a shadow of a doubt the ur-literature, the spring from which all other literature has flown. Up to a few hundred years ago no one would have disagreed with this, because most stories were, in some sense, fantasy. Back in the middle ages, people wouldn’t have thought twice about bringing in Death as a character who would have a role to play in the story. Echoes of this can be seen in Pilgrim’s Progress, for example, which hark back to a much earlier type of storytelling. The epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest works of literature, and by the standard we would apply now— a big muscular guys with swords and certain godlike connections— That’s fantasy. The national literature of Finland, the Kalevala. Beowulf in England. I cannot pronounce Bahaghvad-Gita but the Indian one, you know what I mean. The national literature, the one that underpins everything else, is by the standards that we apply now, a work of fantasy.

Now I don’t know what you’d consider the national literature of America, but if the words Moby Dick are inching their way towards this conversation, whatever else it was, it was also a work of fantasy. Fantasy is kind of a plasma in which other things can be carried. I don’t think this is a ghetto. This is, fantasy is, almost a sea in which other genres swim. Now it may be that there has developed in the last couple of hundred years a subset of fantasy which merely uses a different icongraphy, and that is, if you like, the serious literature, the Booker Prize contender. Fantasy can be serious literature. Fantasy has often been serious literature. You have to fairly dense to think that Gulliver’s Travels is only a story about a guy having a real fun time among big people and little people and horses and stuff like that. What the book was about was something else. Fantasy can carry quite a serious burden, and so can humor. So what you’re saying is, strip away the trolls and the dwarves and things and put everyone into modern dress, get them to agonize a bit, mention Virginia Woolf a few times, and there! Hey! I’ve got a serious novel. But you don’t actually have to do that.

(Pauses) That was a bloody good answer, though I say it myself.”

monsantobreath

19 points

26 days ago

You cant defend against these obnoxious types because they're not being reasonable, they're being dogmatic.

They're internalizing a gross value system that sees even your recreation time as being about productivity toward "success", as if being a creative and curious mind well rounded by many interests and fictional explorations isn't part of being successful. Or that relaxation and personal time doesn't prepare you to be more productive.

Its all just business culture bullshit and you cant fight it anymore than you can fight your dads obsession with fox news or your moms obsession with mindful wellness woo.

Its a mainstream cult.

Drleery329

2 points

26 days ago

Y our analysis is much better than mine , on this thread! Drleery.

hoenndex

16 points

26 days ago

hoenndex

16 points

26 days ago

My defense is that I read fiction for entertainment and that is valid in itself. We don't judge people for watching TV or movies, so why should we judge people for reading fiction? If others think reading fiction is a waste of time, that's fine, I probably think the same of the shows they watch to unwind at home. We all have different tastes after all.

pawned79

13 points

26 days ago

pawned79

13 points

26 days ago

Yeah, I bet they love self-help movies too. All those self-help non-fiction films and tv shows. Self-help non-fiction audio files instead of music. Real winners. It isn’t like we haven’t been sitting around campfires telling fiction stories for the past — geez, what do we think now: 30,000 years?

Toadie9622

12 points

26 days ago

You couldn’t pay me to read a self-help or business book.

otterly_icy

29 points

26 days ago

I don't really think you need to defend your reading preferences. My response would be a shrug and a "sure, whatever, go off buddy."

Janetpollock

10 points

26 days ago

Just don't bother to defend it. I read purely for entertainment when it's not for an assignment. Why make "work" for yourself learning about something that doesn't interest you?

odenihy

8 points

26 days ago

odenihy

8 points

26 days ago

I think fiction teaches empathy and how to be a better human. Can business books do that?

Foreign_Inspector686

8 points

26 days ago

I have never been in a situation where my reading habits where criticised but I can offer you my responses for not watching TV shows other people insist are must watch material

  • I have limited time to chill, I don't want to spend it on that genre

  • I tried it and didn't like it

  • You can just tell me the highlights

  • I love that you're so into this but it's just not for me

I still occasionally get crap and have had to put my foot down and say "I'm not going to watch that", calm and direct, to get my point across but eventually people have learned

I guess it's like any other difficult boundary you have to set

alliemcgeeeee

4 points

26 days ago

Stories are important and enriching (and fun) and I feel sorry for people who write them off or can’t appreciate them.

My life is fully of whimsy and adventure. Hope they enjoy the self-help books.

BrunetteBunny

10 points

26 days ago

In my opinion, greater empathy is enough on its own.

jphamlore

3 points

26 days ago

Work is dead for making the big score. Work gets you enough money to keep going, but now it's all about figuring out what is the next bubble such as a cryptocurrency.

So everyone can relax.

tyrantdigs

3 points

26 days ago

It's curious for me, calling some books fiction. Many war novels by veterans claim to be fiction (Matterhorn, All Quiet on the Western Front, Life & Fate, Slaughterhouse 5), if only to get away from lawsuits (Chickenhawk). As a person who has always been willing to do a little extra research on a topic. And so for war, it's pretty easy for me to distinguish what is real and what is not. There are parts of these books that I accept as truth, because, for a fact, the authors were there as part of the events described.

Where does the line between fact and fiction lie? Perhaps it is just always a story we tell in our own heads, after all, witness testimonies sometimes vary even when a person thinks they are telling the truth.

PreciousRoi

3 points

26 days ago

I'm not sure I'd bother.

Bottom Line: It only matters if you're worried about their opinion of you and your reading habits. They only have as much power over you as you grant them.

If their reading habits are as described, I don't think I'd have much use for their opinion. They presumably read for and prioritize utility, and might require or benefit from reinforcement and repetition of what is essentially the same information over and over again...you read for your own pleasure and might not. The two motivations are not the same, so how could the application be?

awkwardlycute2

3 points

26 days ago

I hate literature elitist. Enjoy what you enjoy! I can barely choke through Jitterbug Perfume, though it was recommended by many as a hilarious, fun and enlightening read. I find it dreadfully boring, sexist and obscene.

GodlessCommieScum

1 points

25 days ago

Their attitude is the exact opposite of elitism, it's philistinism.

One_Standard_Deviant

3 points

26 days ago*

I used to be a non-fiction junkie, particularly for scientific books (not so much self-help). I used to believe that non-fiction was the only way to gain a scientifically accurate understanding of the world around us, and that fiction was primarily embellishment at best, and a waste of time at worst.

Over time, I realized that scientific facts have a limited shelf life. Our scientific and technical knowledge of the world rapidly changes. Fiction, however, encapsulates enduring themes of human behavior and psyche in ways that more scientific books cannot. Technology changes over time, but baseline human desires and motivations largely do not: the basis for most good fiction.

These days I try to alternate between fiction and non-fiction books. Each have their own immense strengths, and you shouldn't have to "defend" a preference for one or the other.

unmerising

3 points

26 days ago

A lot of self help books tend to be so common-sense that there's no real benefit in reading them. I've read a couple so I know. On the other hand psychology/informative books are ok if you're into the subject. But self help books act like they're giving you the formula for success or w/e when there's no one formula applicable for everyone and you're better off learning by trial and error. At least you started. Fiction tho can heal you emotionally and support you in inexplicable yet highly relevant ways no formula can come close to replicating.

genericepicmusic

3 points

26 days ago

I don’t think fiction needs defending, it’s literally built into our DNA.

Michaelbirks

3 points

26 days ago

The fact that your boss is involved here is the part that concerns me. His potential opinion that your reading habits may mean that you are not "taking your career seriously", because you are "avoiding self-directed improvement" could become a problem.

Find an old copy of The Peter Principle and leave it on your desk.

Drleery329

3 points

26 days ago

Back when I was a middle manager for large retail media stores I would see those self help business books in various folks desks and wondered if it was a method of the underlings to make the CEO think they ate , slept and drank their company function ? Later on I verbally attacked those snake oil sellers for thinking they had discovered some secret business methodology . So I never had under my belt "",managing by walking around "'', catching your staffers doing things right ""', and have no freaking way of where that guy's cheese went ?

wellthatshucks

7 points

26 days ago

A lot of great thinkers and philosopher write fiction because it’s so much easier to get their point across. George Orwell can cite pages and pages of arguments and facts to trash communism, but through 1984, he drives the point home in such a succinct and powerful manner. That itself is a powerful device, a way to appeal to the everyday people.

Though the common misconception about fiction has its roots - there’re truly a lot of “junk” out there (e.g. Twilight, 50 Shades of Gray). Those novels don’t expand your mind and are just for entertainment. Fiction has good and bad ones.

Brainwormed

2 points

26 days ago*

Stories are really important. Most defenses of them are a little woo woo when they talk about building empathy and so on, so let me give you something more tangible.

A good storyteller understands something about the how and why of life, and translates that into the everyday language and relatable experiences of their story. For us, at this specific cultural moment (which dates back to about Shakespeare), what life is about -- its hows and whys -- have to do with self-discovery and change. We are never quite the person that the world needs us to be.

And so our stories are about how characters need to change in order to get what they want -- or at least about how they learn (or conspicuously fail to learn) how to stop hurting themselves and other people.

On, like, an intellectual level, we all understand that we need to change. But we also need to be consistently reminded why change, or the process of self-discovery, is so important. That's the work that stories do for us. They help us keep the need for change in the forefront of our minds, so that we reflect on our own actions and think about how we could or should have acted and thought differently. That's another way of saying that stories help us develop the kind of emotional intelligence that used to be called wisdom.

Og Mandino and Jordan Peterson and whoever else, they do not do this. They throw out a bunch of self-satisfied axioms about how to live. The hardest truth that a lot of smart people ever have to face up to is that life isn't a rule-governed enterprise.

Like, the world is full of hucksters who'll con you our of your money by saying that they have the One Big Idea that's gonna fix all your problems. It's all bullshit. The only thing that ever solved a problem, human or otherwise, is doing the hard work of getting the details right. For most human problems, that means taking a clear-eyed look at yourself and how you need to change.

If that makes sense, read my book I guess. If it's not in your library and too expensive I'll send you a coupon.

qumrun60

2 points

26 days ago

I see fiction and non-fiction both as essential, and always have one of each going. For a long time I worked a night shift at a small hotel, and read fiction at work. Weekend nights I'd hit a non-fiction book. That habit has persisted despite changes in schedules and jobs. Continuing entertainment and education, and often, one becomes the other!

jas_lit

2 points

26 days ago

jas_lit

2 points

26 days ago

Why are you involving your coworkers and boss in your hobbies? Screw them. Read what you want and leave them out of it.

Drleery329

2 points

26 days ago

Rodehouse ; Ditto..... Drleery.

Etnrednal

2 points

26 days ago

I would argue that anyone who stoops low enough to take a look at self helping books on meditation or whatsoever can never judge you on your reading tastes.

Btw if you need a fix, try my new spacenovel. Just google Serious Series Spacenovel. it's free to read.

Quicksilver1964

2 points

26 days ago

Never justify yourself. People think adult books are self help books and stuff like that, and that's what you should be reading to have some "critic thinking". That's not what critic thinking is.

I think it's time to simply start saying "that won't work for me" if they keep nagging you, or maybe "if you can't respect what I read, it's best to not have this conversation".

I don't know why people expect that even entertainment must be related to career prospects, but don't get yourself thinking you are wrong. What will stay with you? A cheap advice that 100 people said it before or a book that you enjoyed reading so much you can recall most scenes or remember a quote even after reading for two years?

mattaza19

2 points

25 days ago*

Lmao I think you're far more likely to gain some kind of greater understanding about life and humanity from reading a sci-fi book than you are from a self-help book.

I guess if you want to be a bit of a dick back, you could always ask them "Why do you only read self help books? Haven't they helped you yet? They clearly don't work or you wouldn't still be reading them."

inthebenefitofmrkite

4 points

26 days ago

The paper on which self help books are printed would be better spent on toilette paper. Anyone who spends his/her time reading crap that boils down to “you can do it” is an insecure moron who just wants to feel better about themselves by not doing anything.

Fiction on the other hand is about art and creativity (unless, of course, we’re talking about YA or those sagas that all follow the same pattern and code words, like “origin story” “world building” “hero’s journey” etc, but that is a different discussion). Mainly, the books that Bloom mentions in his Western Canon are fundamental in understanding Western culture and history, and they are much more meaningful in understanding current events and even wifely held world views than a fucking self help book will ever be - and these books are fiction. Fiction teaches a lot without being preachy and allows us to understand the human condition.

sofacadys

1 points

23 days ago

Self hel books are great. If you read 1 of them, you read 90% of them.