5 Ways Fiction Can Be The New “Self Help”

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pretty young woman glasses lying reading bookWhat was the last book you read? Was it worth the time you spent reading it? As a parent sometimes we feel guilty just taking a little bit of time to pick up a good book. We feel like we have to justify every moment of our day and account for how it was useful to our kids or family.

I used to be an almost strictly non-fiction reader. I love self help and other inspirational books and stories. I used to arrogantly say, “I only devote time to reading things that teach me something.” Looking back on this, I’m sure those I shared this with were probably thinking, “blah, blah, blah. Who does this guy think he is?”

I didn’t get it.

What I didn’t understand is that fiction is not anti-education nor is the entertainment of a great novel without value. I’ve found that fiction books have added incredible new insights to life and people as well as given relief and excitement during otherwise dull days.

In recent years I have fallen in love with fantasy, action thrillers and historical fiction. I have also acquired a new taste for classic novels. Each have a different quality. Each are exciting and fun in a different way. Each teach me something; about myself, about how I interact, about my motives and priorities and about other people.

My latest cultural adventure has been reading the original text of “Les Miserables.” This is a timeless tail of the struggles and triumphs of life. In the midst of injustice and trial, this story begs for mercy and goodness to prevail. It showcases some of the very worst and the very best that the world has to offer. It challenges it’s reader to evaluate themselves and commit to be better than they were yesterday. The story and it’s characters show us our own faults as well as our strengths, and do it all in third person. We are given a sermon without being preached to.

I’ve found that I can find valuable gems of insight when I’m willing to look for the following 5 things in my reading.

5 Things to look for to transform fiction into self help.

1. Look for metaphors or symbols that apply to my life.

2. Look for weaknesses in characters that I relate to and challenges to be better.

3. Look for new perspective on things I thought I knew or understood.

4. Look for warnings of things not to do.

5. Look for escape, new worlds, happiness and release.

No matter what the story, we can learn new ways of dealing with the world through the eyes of fictional characters. We can become better husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and/or citizens by engaging our minds in the written word. If you are one that struggles taking the time to just enjoy a novel from time to time, you have permission to use these five things to justify your time in a good book.

I learned a little more about compassion from Jean Valjean of Les Miserables and a little more about courage from Eragon. I was reminded of the shortness of life and the importance of cherishing every day from “Tuesdays with Morrie.” I gained insight about how personal and societal ideas and ideals shift from “The Overton Window.” I learned about sacrifice and perseverance from reading “The Lord of the Rings.” I learned greater empathy and tolerance as I read “The Help.”

There is something in that novel on your bedside table just waiting to improve your life and the life of your children. I read a series of books with my children that open each story with a little boy or girl sitting in a chair, looking at a book. It says, “Let’s open a word window.” The book then takes the child to a new world and they experience things they never have before. We also read the “Magic Tree House” books where the main characters experience wonderful adventures through the books they read.

We can experience the same kind of adventure and discovery that children do as we read new stories and ask ourselves question that will lead to great personal discoveries.

Question: What novels have been most impactful on you? What have you learned from them?

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