In the fourth grade I learned the power of fiction, but it's taken me until just now to remember what I learned.
I recently mentioned that I've begun disciplining myself to read more often. I try to read two chapters every other day. Some days it doesn't happen, but more often it does. When I first started putting together my reading line-up I was a little hesitant to add many fiction books. Most of my friends are strictly non-fiction readers. Sure, they'll watch a tv show or go to a play, but when it comes to their reading... Fiction? Who has the time?
Besides, can reading a story really constitute a discipline? Wouldn't that be like "disciplining" myself to watch a movie or go to a water-park? Isn't it just for fun?
But if your stock and trade is in the film industry, maybe you should discipline yourself to watch a movie. Or if your life's goal is to see as many examples of poorly-chosen, yet boldly-worn swimwear and ingest as many chlorine-negated pathogens as possible, by all means, enjoy those water-parks.
My business is stories. And for all the good biographies, memoirs, and anecdote-filled motivational reads, some of the best stories are still fiction.
In the fourth grade, the last hour of class was always my favorite. By two in the afternoon on a spring day our sun-soaked classroom would be eighty degrees or more and heavy with the humidity of Ohio in early June. The windows would be open to the playground, beckoning a breeze that would never come. With the end of the day getting close, and summer vacation just around the corner, it was all anyone could do to get a classroom full of fidgety 10-year-olds to stop poking sharpened pencils at one another, much less listen to a lesson. That's when Mrs. Segler would draw the curtains partway closed, ask us to put our things away, and pull a well-worn book off the shelf in the corner.
For an hour at the end of each day she lulled us into quiet calm as she led the charge into adventures we never dreamed possible. She'd read to us from The Wizard of Oz, Number the Stars, Bridge to Terabithia, and A Wrinkle in Time.
I was captivated, dumbstruck.
From those stories I realized that my mind made movies more fascinating than any I'd ever seen. I got the first glimpse of how to suffer loss. I learned what friendship could really look like. I discovered new worlds and theories of yet-to-be-discovered dimensions that danced not just at the edge of my imagination but at the edge of scientific theory itself.
Please hear, I don't hate non-fiction. In fact, I love it now more than ever. Non-fiction fills our minds with the information, ideas, and truths that can shape our minds and reshape the world.
But we have to have a vehicle to transfer all that information not just to the wide-open gates of the mind but also to the heavily-guarded halls of the heart. Stories speak to the heart, shaping and changing the way we see and feel about reality. Stories change us because that's what stories are for, all kinds of stories, and "all kinds" includes fiction. I believe we can all benefit from a little more make-believe, what-ifs, and the occasional happily ever after.
Fiction has always been my Cinderella, locked up and out of sight. Good enough for the pantry but not for the parlor. I've often found myself embarrassed to admit how much I love getting lost in a good novel, and how it's often like pulling teeth to choose the book about methodology over the one that's make-believe. No more. I'm a fan of fiction. After all, Cinderella was always just a good story waiting to happen.