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The Biggest Reason Why Men Need to Read More Fiction

Jul 01, 2013 // By Marcus Brotherton


If you’re planning a vacation this summer, then you know there’s nothing like lazing by a pool while sipping a cool bottle of sarsaparilla and reading a good book.
Let’s make that a good novel.
That might sound strange coming from an author who makes his living writing nonfiction, but I hope that men everywhere begin to read more fiction.
Women read fiction. Yes sir. They devour those Amish romance novels by the barrelful. But men have a bit of a reputation for disdaining fiction, and I’d like to help change that.
Why?
The Art of Manliness ran an excellent article last April that delved into the science behind the positive results that fiction generates for your brain. Fiction brings about more creativity and helps shape for better how you think and see the world.
Also telling were the comments underneath the article—more than 163 from men all around the world all recommending novels that positively impacted their lives.
Commenters talked about classics such as Pulitzer-winning The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and the very-manly The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway. Many men said they also enjoyed commercial fiction by dudes such as John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Ted Dekker, Dean Koontz, and Orson Scott Card.
I’d like to add one point to that outstanding article.
It’s the biggest reason you should read more fiction.
Because fiction contains truth.
Now, if that sounds counterintuitive to you, let me explain. Often men say they don’t read fiction because they want to read only truth, and they insist fiction is untruth because it’s made up.
Sure, that’s a fact: unless you’re reading historical fiction, you’re seldom reading about real characters or events that took place.
But here’s another fact: there’s truth in fiction too. It’s imbedded in the narrative. And sometimes, since the truth in fiction comes wrapped around a story that captivates your attention, the truth will be presented so powerfully that it hits you with more impact than if you read the same truth in a nonfiction book.
Case in point.
I just read The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard. He originally wrote 3:10 to Yuma. You may have seen the movie on which it’s based. He also wrote the novels Get Shorty and Be Cool,which were also made into movies. And he wrote Fire in the Hole, which the TV series Justified is based on.
One of Leonard’s short stories is called The Tonto Woman.
It describes an affable outlaw named Ruben Vega who in the 1880s encounters a strange skinny white woman living all by herself in the Arizona desert.
The woman is filled with rage and hurt, closed, standoffish, skeptical, mistrusting, and guarded—classic signs she’s encountered abuse somewhere in her life.
Strangest of all is how her face is mysteriously tattooed on both cheeks by three blurry blue stripes that extend from her cheekbone to her jaw line.
Little by little, her story comes out.
Twelve years earlier the woman was a beautiful bride, newly married and living with her husband, a poor but honest cattleman, when she took a trip to visit her parents.
Yavapai came looking for food, clubbed her parents and two small brothers to death, and took the young bride north with them as spoils of the crime.
The Yavapai soon traded her traded her to the Mojave as a slave, who permanently marked her face according to their tribal customs.
When a drought came, the Mojave traded her to the Apaches for two mules and a bag of salt. When the Apaches were rounded up to be sent to Oklahoma, the woman was rescued and returned home to her husband.
Only one problem now. The husband, in the meantime, has grown rich from his cattle business. He’s grown respected in the community. He’s grown self-important.
And he doesn’t want anything to do with his wife.
So the rich husband sets her up in a small adobe hut on the lonely end of his vast property. He gives her chickens and a cow and sends his hired hands every month to look in on her with flour and supplies from town.
The woman lives a forsaken existence, withering away in the desert. It’s the 1880s, what other choice does she have?
Her husband provides for her. But that’s it.
The outlaw Ruben Vega decides to change that.
Vega is a ladies’ man at heart. Later before he dies, he confesses to a priest how he’s fornicated with at least 600 women.
“Do you mean bad women or good women?” the priest asks.
“They are all good, Father,” Vega says.
Back with his plan, Vega rents a suit coat from the town undertaker, buys a pretty dress for the woman, picks a stack of flowers, and visits her at the adobe of banishment. He invites her out for a special dinner in town, and to his surprise, she accepts.
The two create quite a scene in the dining room of the Charles Crooker Hotel in Benson, Arizona—the notorious outlaw sitting across a white-clothed table from the once-beautiful cattleman’s wife.
The tension ratchets up when the rich cattleman shows up and confronts the two.
Vega is unfazed. He says to the cattleman, “Why don’t you sit down and have a glass of wine with us …
I’ll introduce you to your wife.”
Thrown off guard, the cattleman consults his conscience and sits.
“We are married,” he says to his tattooed wife. “I have an obligation to you and I respect it. Don’t I provide for you?”
The wife turns to the outlaw and smiles in mockery at her husband’s words. “Did you hear that,” she says. “He provides for me.”
As if that’s all that’s required of a husband.
The story ends soon after that.
It leaves the point ringing in the reader’s ears. The theme isn’t spelled out. It’s implied.
Too many women, whatever their various painful givens have been, are left out in the wilderness by their husbands. They are provided for out of duty. But long gone are the suit coats, the presents of pretty dresses, and the stacks of flowers given out of love.
Take your wife to dinner, men. That’s what this bit of fiction begs you to do. No matter what’s transpired between the two of you since you’ve been married.
Cherish her.
And don’t let some outlaw steal her away.
That powerful truth is why men need to read more fiction.
Question: What novels have you enjoyed and learned from? What are some themes from fiction you’ve read that have stuck with you the longest?
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  • Jeff

    Powerful story. The book that encouraged me to read more and read all types of literature was “Education of a Wandering Man” by Louis Lamore. Read it and you will be a reader forever. Written by a Man’s man.I see “The Road” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the picture. Every man should read those two books.

  • The novel that had the greatest impact on me as an adult was Catch-22. Some parts like Major Major Major Major and the 107-year-old Italian man still crack me up. What sticks with me from that book is the implied message: the world is full of insanity and cruelty but never let that deter you. Be different and be better.

  • Twice in the past 18 months I’ve been laid up temporarily after surgeries to repair martial arts-related injuries. If I didn’t have a loving wife to help me out, I’d be in very tough shape. To say I cherish her is an understatement.

  • @ David, well said, thanks. –MB

  • Priceless by Tom Davis compelled me to join the fight against human trafficking. It also inspired me to write a novel about boys forced into fishing slavery in Ghana, West Africa. I’m traveling their soon for research. Novels can teach. They can inspire. They can make a difference.

  • @ Darren, I worked with Tom Davis a few years back on one of his nonfiction books. Great guy doing amazing work. Thanks for your comment.

  • The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold. It’s sad, but the story about family, memory, love, heaven,and living is so beautifully written it is a joy to read something so sad and will jump start your heart strings.
    Can TV fit in this category too? I will never forget the TV show “Chuck”. Many scenes are on Youtube with comments from MEN about how scenes made them cry like a baby. It wasn’t always because of something sad, but the beautifully written stories we all need to be reminded of now and then of the loving ties that bind- family, friends old and new, and the perseverance of true love found. I think that is the reason why the show had such a huge grass roots following.

  • Thanks for the reminder about fiction, Marcus. I couldn’t agree more, and am reminded of a Pablo Picasso quote: “Art is a lie which makes us realize the truth.”
    My favourite classic novels include Russian authors: Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” and Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” Tolstoy and Chekov’s short stories are also a great option for people like me who take months to make it through a long novel.
    Sometimes I’ve been introduced to authors through their non-fiction, then discovered they write incredible novels. Two modern authors like that are Wendell Berry (best novel is “Jayber Crow”) and Frederick Buechner (best novel is “Godric”).

  • When I feel like reading non-WWII books, I usually read some biographies about bands or musicians. I also really like the “Beat Generation authored books” from Bukowski, Ginsberg, Fante, Kerouac. I enjoy their short stories. But when it comes to “classics”, I think JD Salinger’s “Catcher in the rye” has always been one of my favourites. For whom the bell tolls by Hemingway is great. (When I was in Cuba on a holiday some years ago, and visited his house there and several other places related to him. Yes, I had his cocktail as well!) When I was younger I would get all the classics and read them. I should re-read some of them again. Then there is a Dutch book that by now has been translated into English called “Joe Speedboat” by Tommy Wieringa. Fantastic book. It might be more for “Young adults”, but I know many grownups who are reading the book. I think Ken Follet has some great books that mix historic facts with fictional characters. A thing I enjoy in fiction are usually road trips, the meeting of many different characters along the way, the feeling of following your dream, a sense of freedom. That’s something I can get a lot of inspiration from somehow. The truth is, I already love my girlfriend so much, take her out to diner, write her cards, buy flowers or little gifts..and don’t really need any book to remind me of doing that! 🙂

  • Tobias (GER)

    thanks for this great article of yours. Sometimes you forget to cherish the good things in life, because you think they are yours and can’t ran away. Wrong! They can!

    Best to you and yours Marcus

  • Bryan

    You know, I got to thinking: most guys would watch an occasional documentary, but have watched many movies, most of which are complete fiction. So, I guess if we watch fiction movies or true story documentaries, an occasional fiction novel could be good.

  • From historical fiction I’ve learned a lot about courage, brotherhood, and the importance of knowing about YOUR history. In history, there are heroes and there are villains but we tend to forget that they are people too, who go beyond their stereotype.

    Aside from His-Fic, I’ve really enjoyed the Star Wars Revenge of the Sith novelization by Matthew Stover. Completely underrated writer. The themes of that book of empathy for a falling man who tries to balance pleasing everyone with his ideals is powerful. In the end you can’t please everyone. If you try, than you’re going to destroy yourself.

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HI, I'M MARCUS BROTHERTON,

the bestselling author or coauthor of more than 25 books. Welcome to my blog. Thoreau pointed out how too many people lead lives of quiet desperation. Their lives are bland and meaningless, or they make choices that trap them in despair and darkness. By contrast, I want to help people lead lives of excellence. Meet here regularly for powerful stories and insight into how to live and lead well.