The Hedonist’s Case for Reading Fiction

Fourth Estate/Dana Nickel


A myriad of possible activities are jockeying for your time: Should you stay up-to-date on the Netflix show your friends have been talking about for the past week? Should you learn meal-prep? Learn about the stock market and invest in commission-free trading? There’s an app for that, after all, and time is money.

Oh, and are you a well-rounded individual? Will you ever read all Shakespeare’s plays like you promised you would in high school? If you do that, will there be time to fit in Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”? Realistically, you have about 60 years left, so better get cracking.

Then again, how can you even begin with those texts if your life isn’t organized? Maybe pick up that self-help book your favorite YouTuber has been talking about; that’ll finally pull your life out of its never-ending slow, sickening tailspin.

I implore you to pause your pursuit of every aforementioned activity. Instead, pick up a fiction book in a genre that has piqued your interest in the past. Don’t do it because this book is in some way “important” — in fact, I urge you to pick a book with nothing to prove outside of itself. This means no Fyodor Dostoyevski, no “1984,” no “Wuthering Heights” (unless, of course, you find yourself situated such that you might read these solely for the hedonistic pleasure of doing so and no broader purpose). Absolutely don’t read because you think it’d be impressive to say you’ve read.

Reading fiction is a great way to give a big middle finger to those things in your life, big and small, begging for your attention. These things are different for everyone. For me, it’s the anxiety of professors in a Mason Core class insisting I must absolutely have a physical copy of a textbook that I know we are going to use at most twice, or the feeling that I must key into the 24-hour news cycle that permeates both my job and social media.

Why flip the finger? Because the majority of anxieties are characterized by delayed gratification. Be productive in college so you can get into the workforce. Be knowledgeable so you can be competitive in your field and sociable in networking situations. And so on.

Instead of the long-term end goal progress, when you read fiction, you, via your immediate comfort, are an end unto yourself.

The same goal could be achieved by going to Wendys at 2 a.m. by yourself even though you know you shouldn’t, but it would be so much more decadent, so luxurious, to find a quiet spot to read and spend an hour — an hour! On a text of no cultural significance! — with no one to compete with and no deadline.

And, who knows — being a hedonist, I could care less — but you might even learn something new and profound about the human condition that only elevated art can make you feel along the way.