Virginia Woolf once said: “Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.” People often look down on fictional stories because they are not anchored in reality and therefore argue that they are of no value in the “real world”. Although novels may be anchored in alternate realities, at their core, they have many valuable lessons to be learnt. These values apply to our character, how we interact and the way we work. Hence, as an avid book-lover myself, I personally strongly disagree that reading novels is a waste of time.
One obvious reason why novels are not merely a way of passing time is because of the literary quality of many novels which serve as an inspiration to its readers. Although they are fictional, many novels are literary works of art. Just as aspiring artists get inspired by the technique of renowned artists like Leonardo DaVinci, students and even fellow writers can get different perspectives of storytelling methods by reading novels. It is no secret that the best fictional works of our time have been inspired by past works of fiction. A famous example would be how Charles Dickens, a British novelist who wrote such beloved classic novels such as “Oliver Twist” and “A Christmas Carol”, drew inspiration from poet William Shakespeare, who was widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language. While this may have been a long time ago, writers being influenced by other writers and poets can also be observed in recent years. George R. R. Martin, author of critically-acclaimed “A Song of Fire And Ice” book series drew inspiration from authors like J. R. R. Tolkien who wrote the even more renowned “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Novels are intricately woven tapestries of language; therefore people can learn from them and be motivated to create their own literary works. As such, one can view the reading of novels as a crucial part of the creative process as they are a major source of inspiration. Therefore, they are also a contributing factor to the diversity of literature today.
Readers who enjoy novels will inevitably enrich their vocabulary as well as gain knowledge and understanding of certain world issues. Some novels are written based on historical events, which can help the reader obtain knowledge on certain past events. Such readings would supply the reader valuable information and aid their understanding for other studies such as history, politics, economics, sociology and psychology. A notable example would be the novel “Animal Farm”, which reflects the events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union. This would allow readers to draw parallels between the characters in the novel and historical figures, aiding them in their understanding of historical events that shape the world today. Apart from learning about factual events that were depicted in novels, works of fiction also reflect modern day struggles such as racism, which still plagues our world today. Books such as “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee and “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas take up issues of racial injustice and identity, both of which resonate with many students in particular – and are particularly timely in the wake of countless police shootings of unarmed black men and women today. The novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” is a perennial reading assignment for many American students, deemed as a fixture in American consciousness for many decades due to its examination of racial injustice. This shows how novels are able to both educate students on the struggles faced by certain segments of society, as well as to model for students how they can stand up and speak out against injustice. This would undoubtedly improve one’s social skills in terms of how they empathise and how they relate to other individuals. Hence, this shows how works of fiction still hold an important place in society, in addressing pertinent issues in the world and empowering individuals to eradicate these problems.
In addition, a commonly cited reason that parents encourage children to read from a young age is that reading novels improves creativity. By reading more books, children would be able to expose themselves to new and more information. This would develop creativity in children, allowing them to come up with more innovative ideas. Through the interesting characters as well as creative story plots that are woven together intrinsically by authors, this develops a child’s ability to think imaginatively. As compared to spending time playing video games and surfing the Internet, reading books is an activity that forces the reader to ditch distractions and focus. It is this said focus that acts as a catalyst for an increase in creativity. This is because books are a window to the world – allowing a glimpse into cultures past, present and future, as interpreted by their authors and filtered through our own imaginations. Children who read novels from a young age would be able to discover an amazing amount of information, especially at a young age when they are more impressionable. The more children know, the more they will be able to share, ultimately shaping them to become better conversationalists, quicker thinkers and better problem solvers in the future.
However, just as with all things, novels do have a negative side to them that hold no value in bettering one’s life. In order for us to reap the benefits of reading novels, we as readers need to be selective in what we choose to read. There are close to 130 million books in the world, and it would be naive to assume that all novels hold an equal value to an individual. While there are novels that stimulate one’s intellect and improve creativity, there also exist novels that encourage morally unsound values. An example would be the genre of erotic novels. Novels such as “Twilight” by Stephenie Meyer, or E. L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” certainly would not hold any value in bettering one’s life. This is because these books do not focus on inculcating the right values in its readers, but instead promote the culture of pre-marital sex, which may not coincide with the values that readers have been taught. Hence, one would probably not gain any of the abovementioned benefits if one chooses to read books that are of no significant value.
Thus, one can see that rather than generalize whether novels are a waste of time, it is far better to scrutinize each novel individually. Some novels tend to have more educational value; others, moral value, and it is up to readers to be discerning and seek out books of quality, not just chick-lit romance novels that teach us little and can be justified as “a waste of time” as the question suggests.. This way, we will be able to reap the most benefits from reading novels.