It all started in 6th grade. Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson launched my life into a whole world that I never thought could’ve existed. It was a world filled with adventure, gods, powers and friends. Since then, it’s been Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and many more. So many fictional worlds that have enraptured my attention to a degree that the real world never could.

Many readers will sympathise when I say that family and friends often struggle to understand the value of digging one’s nose in a book, especially a fictional one. There would be questionable looks, confused gazes and furrowed eyebrows when, as a child, you were far more content to sit on the floor and read rather than watch tv or play with the cousins.

As an avid reader, I can honestly say that I’ve learned many lessons from fiction. While others might view it as nonsensical, here are a few things that non-fiction readers will always struggle to grasp:

The Grey Area. Whilst non-fiction conveys facts, figures and history, fiction gives us an up-close and personal view of life’s unending truth: nothing is black and white. In any fictional journey there’s always a morally grey character, or a choice between two evils. The thing about fiction is that there is no conclusion or point to prove – there’s just a story, and each reader has liberty to interpret that story how they wish. Each reader can decide what’s moral, what’s suspicious, and how they wish to see characters. When you’ve been inside the head of a villain and seen their backstory, it’s easy to have compassion even when they commit atrocities. Fiction teaches understanding.

Psychology. While no reader can truly say they have a degree in psychology, they can argue that they understand humans somewhat better than if they hadn’t read anything before. If you read general fiction from the perspective of many different people from different countries, races and religions imagine the understanding that you can build of different communities. This is also where diversity in authorship is incredibly important. Readers who make a point of reading from a diverse range of authors can learn so much about the experiences of others. Fiction teaches empathy.

The hard truth. Reading about dystopian societies or even modern communities teaches readers the hardest truth that there is: no human, government or organisation is perfect. There are fundamental flaws in every collective grouping. Readers who know the likes of the Hunger Games, Divergent or The 100 will know this tale very well. So many characters and societies fall prey to their flaws, but readers know that there’s always another way. We can always try to be better. Fiction teaches perseverance.

Written by Gabrielle Coetzee