Is Fiction More Powerful Than Truth?

Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded how influential writers really are.

Fiction can be more effective at explaining global issues than factual reports, according to a recent study by a team from Manchester University and the London School of Economics. Read more about it here.

The study says that books like Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner have “arguably done more to educate Western readers about the realities of daily life in Afghanistan under the Taliban and thereafter than any government media campaign, advocacy organization report or social science research.”

While a segment on the news might hold our interest for a few moments before becoming part of that day’s information overload, the characters and scenes from the books we love stay with us long after we’ve put them back on the shelf. I admit that when I see or read a report from Afghanistan, the picture of everyday life that was so vividly painted in The Kite Runner does immediately come to my mind—not as a substitute for current events, but as a context in which to view them.

That said, I cannot imagine having learned more about a woman’s life in Iran from a novel than I did from Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. The study doesn’t seem to take into account readable, engrossing nonfiction as part of the picture.

What do you think? What novels or other books have expanded your worldview?

—Jessica

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0 thoughts on “Is Fiction More Powerful Than Truth?

  1. Jessica Strawser

    Thank you both, so much, for weighing in and sharing your perspectives. You bring up such wonderful points–both about literature’s influence in society and about how our minds work.

  2. VanessaW

    In answer to your title question, Jessica, I’d say they aren’t necessarily _less_ powerful, so much that fiction is very disarming in a way– it’s easy, when first picking up a book, to say, "I don’t have to believe this, this is escapism, this is fiction. Not real." A nonfiction book, no matter how well-written and entertaining, still confronts us from the cover, before it’s even opened, with a bold statement– this is real, this is the truth. That can be, for someone wanting to read purely for the thrill of a good fictional narrative, a bit daunting.

    I think there are some types of fiction readers, though not all, who like to tiptoe around their truth, and approach it indirectly. Great fiction gives a lesson, but doesn’t make it feel like learning at all, but an event/adventure. One that someone can, if too uncomfortable, pretend never to have seen at all.

    The best fiction, though, makes us want to see it and want more.

  3. Melissa

    Memoirs are powerful worldview changers. I love Rachel Simon’s Riding the Bus With My Sister; it helped me see what life is like for people who are mentally handicapped and their families. I’m looking forward to reading Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison (Augusten Burroughs’s brother) who has Asperger’s.

    On a more global scale, I recently read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s memoir Infidel, which provided an excellent personal view of her experience growing up in extreme Islam. Non-memoir-wise, Beasts of No Nation (Uzodinma Iweala) and What is the What? (David Eggers) gave me a heart-wrench view of child soldiers.

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