I've been pretty full on with my non-fiction reading lately, in various formats. The more I'm exposed to, the bigger my to-read list. This week's obsession reminded me not to forget the fiction. Make time for it. Value it.
It was listening to the Tim Ferris interview with Neil Gaiman that sparked this train of thought. I'm becoming increasingly fascinated with different people's approaches to the creative process, in whatever field they may be working (although be warned if you listen to it, there is a very lengthy discussion about fountain pens that I could've done without). I've got to admit, I didn't actually know who this guy was before, so I'm not even sure why I chose that episode. Or, more accurately, as it turns out I was aware of quite a bit of his work, but didn't know it was him. And never made the connection that American Gods, Coraline and Good Omens shared an author. That's pretty broad. That afternoon I used the excuse of a sleeping baby to sit down to read more of Range (David Eppstein). Who does he use as an example of a generalist author, but Neil Gaiman.
There are a few things I needed to remind myself of in terms of the importance of reading fiction. First of all, its good to get out of your head. Despite that though, there's such opportunity to learn from fiction. You get a chance to get an insight into other people's lives. To empathise. Reading This is How it Always Was lead me to completely reexamine my approach to issues relating to transgender children and adolescents. A Little Life made me look at suicide and intractable suffering in a new light also. Of course, there are others, but these are two that really confronted me emotionally.
The other thing is storytelling. Regardless of how you're presenting information, be it a novel, a powerpoint presentation, a paper in a scientific journal, story matters above all. In a youtube video of Neil Gaiman at MIT (told you he was this week's obsession) he gives his definition of a story as "anything that keeps someone watching or reading and doesn't leave them feeling cheated at the end". I think that's something I need to practice doing more.