Which are Better for You? Fiction or Nonfiction Books?

Posted on: June 21st, 2019 in Mindset by Pat Mesiti | No Comments

Australians buy around 55 million books each year worth about $1 billion and that does not even include ebooks and audiobooks! Ebook sales could make up around 15-20 per cent of the market.

One of the biggest trends is the growth of personal development book sales. According to Nielsen BookScan, the personal development category is growing about 80 per cent a year and is worth around $40 million. The Barefoot Investor by Australian finance writer Scott Pape has been a best seller for two years. In its first year it sold 74,600 copies.

Another big selling genre in Australia is crime novels. The crime, thriller and adventure genre now accounts for almost one-third of all Australian adult fiction book sales, second only to general fiction and worth $74 million in 2017, the strongest year for sales since 2011, according to Nielsen BookScan.

But which is better for you – fiction or nonfiction? Let’s look at some of the benefits of each.

What you get out of non-fiction?

  1. You will learn many facts, figures and life lessons from nonfiction.

If you read a nonfiction book, such as a historical account, you will learn new information, while biographies will run through the milestones of important people’s lives and give you historical context. Biographies also show you how successful people have overcome setbacks. You will learn important lessons about overcoming adversity. Reading about the experiences of others will teach you valuable life lessons, helping you avoid some mistakes and also find the courage to embrace new opportunities.

  • Your concentration will improve

Reading requires focus, especially reading a serious text with lots of information. By making a habit of concentrating, you’ll find it easier to be more productive. Fifteen minutes reading nonfiction on your way into work will sharpen your mind for the day.

  • You’ll get better at communicating

By reading nonfiction, your vocabulary will expand. You’ll also pick up a new style of talking and writing from the authors you read. You will become a more eloquent and effective communicator

  • Reading is brain exercise

Reading nonfiction is exercise for the old grey matter and sharpens memory and analytical skills. Research shows that reading nonfiction can also ward off degenerative neurological disorders, like dementia and Alzheimer’s. A chapter a day could keep the doctor away.

  • You’ll become cleverer

Nonfiction is the gateway to knowledge and is especially beneficial if you did not go to university. From history to finance and art to psychology, nonfiction will help you to learn more. Couple this with focusing your concentration and exercising your brain and you definitely will be growing brighter.

The benefits of reading fiction

  1. It teaches you to relate to people

Reading fiction is linked more to our psychological health. At the Princeton Social Neuroscience Lab, psychologist Diana Tamir has shown fiction readers are better at working out what other people are thinking and feeling. Reading fiction teaches you how to read people. Using brain scans, she has found that while reading fiction, there is more activity in parts of brain that are involved in assessing what other people are thinking. People who read novels appear to be better than average at understanding other people’s emotions.

Fiction gives us insights into people. We have access to the character’s interior thinking. Novels also allow us to view a character’s life over many years.

  • It teaches you to behave

Research suggests that reading fiction does make people behave better. Some American universities consider reading to be so beneficial that they make undergraduates do a unit of literature. At the University of California Irvine, the Department of Family Medicine believes that reading fiction results in better doctors and has set up a humanities programme to train medical students. Researchers have also found that people who read fiction are more likely to do volunteering or give to charity.

  • Reading encourages self-understanding

So often when we read a novel we come to understand the thinking and motives of the key characters. This exercise in perspective-taking is like a training course in understanding real people and ourselves. The Canadian cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley calls fiction “the mind’s flight simulator”. Just as pilots can practise flying without leaving the ground, people who read fiction can improve their understanding of human psychology and with that we start to understand our own desires, conflicts and goals better. Reading encourages self-reflection and ultimately self-understanding. And better insight into your own behaviour will help you achieve and succeed.

  • Reading is a great de-stressor

It is a proven fact that reading can reduce stress and anxiety. We are made to read so many documents in our daily lives – reports, news websites, letters, traffic signs, emails and bills. But leisure reading is pleasurable.

Reading is a great escape from everyday stressors. By opening a book, you leave this world and all your worries behind and step into a new exotic fiction world that distracts you from your daily annoyances. You can go back in history, visit other planets, and meet mythical creatures.

Reading can relax your body by lowering your heart rate and easing the tension in your muscles. A 2009 study at the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress by up to 68 per cent. It works better and faster than destressors like listening to music or drinking a cup of tea or coffee. Set aside 30 minutes to read fiction every day in a quiet place and you will feel better.


I can’t answer the question which is better fiction or non-fiction. It is like being asked, which do you prefer, your right or left leg? You need both to walk. I think you need both fiction and non-fiction to develop your body, soul and mind. I hope you have a long list of books you are keen to read – both fiction and non-fiction.


Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


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