I heard a story again the other day that reminded me of many personal experiences. Someone asked another person how anyone could read “that” kind of book. In this case, the book was a romance, but you could easily replace romance with SF, Fantasy, Horror, Westerns, or probably just about any genre book. The questioner continued with something like: “If you’re going to read, why not read non-fiction? Why not try to learn something?”
I used to get angry when people said these kinds of things, particularly when they said them to me. But that was when I was a kid. I don’t get angry anymore, because I just see it as a kind of uninformed provincialism. At the risk of sounding egotistical, I’ve never had anyone ask me that question who had as a big a vocabulary as I have. And despite the fact that I’ve always read and continue to read genre fiction, I managed to get a Ph.D., advance to full professorship in an academic job, and publish plenty of non-fiction myself.
And I didn’t get my vocabulary from reading non-fiction. I got it as a kid reading SF and Fantasy. I didn’t get my ability to “think outside the box” from non-fiction, nor from the classroom. I got it from reading genre fiction. Without my fiction reading habit I don’t believe I’d ever have graduated college, much less gone on. I certainly would never have discovered that the best way to reach students and teach them something is to tell them a “story.” I would never have been able to teach students how to write, a skill that sp many people desperately need.
People can learn in all kinds of ways and from all kinds of activities. And learning is not just a collection of facts. Certainly, having information is important, but being able to translate one’s thoughts and ideas into words is critical. Being able to make sense of the world is critical. Being able to see the world from a variety of perspectives is critical. Fiction teaches these things. It’s important and should not be discouraged.
Let the kids read. Let them read whatever they can get their hands on. Let them open their minds to thoughts that come from places other than their TVs. Let them learn.
You want to know the worst part of it? The person who asked that question in my first paragraph about why folks didn’t read something they could learn from... That person was a librarian. (Certainly not my lovely Lana, of course, who is a librarian herself and an extraordinary one.)