This is an account of day 9 of the 21-Day Daily Stoic Freedom Challenge, for accounts of other days please click here.
The task for day 9 of the 21-Day Daily Stoic Freedom Challenge is to pick a work of fiction to read. It draws on the writings of Marcus Aurelius in the Meditations, where he says we should read fictionalized tragedies “to remind us of what can happen, and that it happens inevitably—and if something gives you pleasure on that stage, it shouldn’t cause you anger on this one.” In other words, we can read fiction for entertainment or self-improvement, but the imagined world we get lost in may help us better understand the real one.
Today’s instructions from the Daily Stoic email:
Your challenge today is to find your own source of positive examples and pick a work of fiction to read. Start it today. Make it your goal to have it finished by the end of the challenge. Fiction, like all wonderful art, is filled with little bits of insight about the human condition that are worthy of pulling out and thinking on, as the Stoics often did in their writings. Despite the protestations of the busy and the information hungry, fiction can change your life and teach you just as much as any non-fiction book.
The email goes on to quote Neil Gaiman on the benefits of reading fiction:
The great multi-genre author Neil Gaiman likes to say that “Fiction gives us empathy: it puts us inside the minds of other people, gives us the gifts of seeing the world through their eyes. Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over.” Often times that empathy arises from the fact that fiction authors routinely put their characters through hell, and we can say to ourselves, ‘I’ve been there, pal’ or alternatively, ‘At least I’m not that guy.’
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As a keen reader, I had been looking forward to this part of the challenge. I’ve been reading A Man In Full by Tom Wolfe recently and I’m about half-way through, so I took this opportunity to pick my next book and make a start on it. I bought the Ryan Holiday-recommended The Moviegoer a while ago so this seemed like a good time to open it up. In today’s challenge video commentary, Ryan says Walker Percy is one of his favourite Stoics, so I’m interested to see what this book has to offer beyond the first few pages I’ve read so far.
In the challenge’s group Slack channel it was nice to see that today’s task was also getting some other participants, like Jasmine, back into reading, and enjoying, fiction:
I have a great library of books I’ve bought over the years. I’m not sure what happened to me, but for a long time now I’ve struggled to read. I want to, but really struggle to, mentally. I have had a copy of Franny and Zooey near me (on my desk, on my sofa, in my bag) for ages now… so I chose to read that. I lay on the floor of my study, enjoying reading fiction for the first time in a little while.
It’s a worthwhile pursuit to read fiction as entertainment, but there’s an added benefit if you remember that what you’re reading potentially allows you to better understand the world around you – how people think, how they react in certain situations, how they recover from disaster. Overall though, enjoy it.