I read books for information. Whether non-fiction or fiction, I want to know more because I have read. Why? So I can share it. So I can be more than I was before I read it. It’s pretty obvious how this works with a non-fiction book. A fishing book makes me a better fisherman. A book on communication makes me a better communicator. A non-fiction book is written for a particular person, living and interacting with others in a particular place. It informs me directly about a subject.
Novels are teachers too.
A novel teaches me indirectly through the character’s relationships and interactions in a particular place, the setting. If the book is historical fiction I learn how people lived in a certain time period. If I’m reading a syfy novel written in the 1940’s, let’s say, Have Space Suit—Will Travel, by Robert A. Heinlein, I learn about author’s in the 40s and since he is somewhat the father of “real” science fiction, I also learn science facts that I can trust. Novels show me how people interact with each other. I don’t have to make every mistake known to man in order to avoid making mistakes. I can watch and learn from those who’ve gone before me even if they live within the lines of a story.
Fiction teaches me in 3 ways: It can inform me, makes me wise, and improves my critical thinking skills.
A novel informs through reality
Looking back at Have Spacesuits-Will Travel we see that Heinlein is known as the father of the science fiction novel. He was the first author to include legitimate science in his writing. Before his novel, science fiction included anything that was bizarre. He introduced real science into his work. Historical fiction teaches facts about cultures and short stories often show us things about human relations.
A novel provides a foundation for wisdom
History repeats itself. If that is true I ought to study characters and how they interact. I can learn from their successes and failures. If the author reveals to me facts about social injustices and wars, I learn what happened and why things turned out bad or good. If I want to become wise I copy decisions that proved good and right and avoid those that were hurtful and selfish.
If the book is a historical fiction story and set during a real time and place in history the author uses these facts to create a realistic setting for her characters but I indirectly learn about a culture I’ve never studied. Whatever was going on during that period in history will be revealed to me indirectly and gives me fuel to make better decisions today.
A Novel Improves Critical Thinking Skills
One of the neatest things about novels as opposed to nonfiction is the indirect way it informs and teaches us. We learn many things without trying and that’s way cool. If we take this one extra step and talk about the book and make connections in a discussion group like The LITCLub, a really neat thing happens. Other people see things in the book that I didn’t see. They connect it to worldview perspectives differently than I do. As we talk about our ideas and share our perspectives, everyone’s critical thinking skills improve.
If I hold a piece of glass in front of the sun I see light pass through it but if I hold a prism in front of the sun I see a rainbow emerge. This is the difference between reading a novel, gleaning insights on my own or reading it and discussing it in The LITClub. A rainbow of ideas emerges and it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.
What are your thoughts on fiction and critical thinking?