Tim Challies has a very helpful interview here with Russell Moore on the value of reading fiction—including what to avoid and what he recommends.
Here is an excerpt:
I would say that fiction, along with songwriting and personal counseling, are the most constant ways that God teaches me empathy. It’s easy in evangelical Christianity to assume that everyone who opposes us or disagrees with us is simply to be verbally evaporated as an enemy to be destroyed. But no false teaching and no wrong direction has any power unless it appears to someone to be good. Jesus teaches us that those who hand over the disciples to be killed will “think themselves to be doing the will of God.” Almost everyone is the hero in his or her own personal narrative. People don’t think of themselves the way super-villains do in some old cartoon, rubbing their hands together and plotting “the reign of eeeee-vil in the world. Ha ha ha ha!” Fiction helps people honestly present those internal stories that people tell themselves, things they won’t disclose in, say, a debate or a non-fiction monograph arguing for their way of life. In fiction, a Darwinist can show you what it’s like to be scared that you’re living a meaningless life in a meaningless universe, but he can also show you where he finds those things, like awe and love, that he can only ultimately find in God.
In doing premarital counseling with couples I’m marrying, I ask each of them to tell a story to the other. It’s called, “If I Had an Affair, This Is What I Would Do.” Most of these young couples cringe and pout when I first assign this. They’re in love. They only have affection for the other. They can’t imagine ever cheating. That’s just the point. No couple (or very few) start a marriage with designs on infidelity. This storytelling exercise is fictional, but it helps to focus the one’s imagination on what patterns are in his life that he should watch, and it helps the other to get to know her future spouse in a way that is impossible so far in their experience. Often, this exercise has caused a couple to put certain safeguards in place about computers or travel or what have you. It’s helped husbands learn what’s going on when their wives get suddenly quiet or whatever. That’s amateur fiction, but it’s fiction.
But, finally, good fiction isn’t a “waste of time” for the same reason good music and good art aren’t wastes of time. They are rooted in an endlessly creative God who has chosen to be imaged by human beings who create. Culture isn’t irrelevant. It’s part of what God commanded us to do in the beginning, and that he declares to be good. When you enjoy truth and beauty, when you are blessed by gifts God has given to a human being, you are enjoying a universe that, though fallen, God delights in as “very good.”
You can read the whole thing here.
For those wanting to follow along with Leland Ryken’s TGC series on reading Camus’s The Stranger, here are the posts thus far: