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If You’re Tired of Self Improvement Books, Try This Instead

It’s the difference between reading a textbook and hearing a story.

If you read another how-to book, your brain is going to explode. You’re in the grips of personal development fatigue and can’t see a way out. It’s a Catch-22. If you stop reading those books, your progress may stall. If you continue reading them though, you may just give up learning entirely. However, there is in fact a secret door you can choose from: fiction.

Fiction gets a bad wrap. For many, the thought of reading a “made-up” story doesn’t appeal to them. But I’m here to tell you: fiction is wonderful. Not all of it is, but the good ones are really good. Take science fiction, for instance. When you spend time reading classic sci-fi, you will be utterly amazed. The worlds the authors create, the lessons they convey, the research that clearly took place. It’s awe-inspiring.

And more than that, it gives you a much-needed rest from all that note-taking. Where a nonfiction book leaves you with reams of concepts to sift through, fiction often leaves you with just one major idea. Compared to the constant learning of non-fiction, a good fiction book is a wonderful reprieve. They’re not always perfect. And books are highly contextual. Just because there’s a book I love doesn’t mean you will too. Still, here are four fictional books you can learn from without taking a ton of notes.

*Minor spoilers ahead.


When the road forks

Two roads lay before you. To the left is the one you are passionate about. It is a life of hard-work, endless toil, but also real fulfillment. To the right is the one you feel responsible to go down. It is one of tremendous wealth, fame, but also selling yourself out. The left is the harder route by far. After all, your parents have been grooming you towards the right for as long as you can remember. You go right. Everything comes true. You get the money, the recognition, and also the soul-crushing feeling that you wasted your shot in life.

In The Fountainhead, author Ayn Rand stresses the importance of integrity. Of being true to yourself even when everyone and everything is screaming at you to do otherwise. In her novel, Rand details the lives of several characters, all choosing different paths. Some commit fully to going left. Others fully right. And some jump back and forth between the two. At the end of the book you’re left wondering, “Am I being honest with myself?”


Water or gold?

Water is the currency. If you have it, you’re rich. If you don’t, you’re dead. In Dune by Frank Herbert, the author paints the picture of a world desperate for water. Of how everything operates around that one vital yet lacking resource. This is the landscape the main character finds himself in. This is the landscape he is required to endure.

The lack of water is but background noise to the rest of the story. However, to someone looking to learn, there is plenty to gain from this desert planet. Namely, that the environment determines value. If water is scarce, water becomes the most valued resource. If food is scarce, then food becomes the most sought-after. Depending on your environment, value is placed on different items. If you live in a barren desert, water is worth more than gold.


Mom? It’s me…

You leave without saying goodbye. You’re not mad about anything, in particular. In fact, you’re not mad at all. You just don’t care all that much about the other person in the room. Day after day, you take them for granted. The meals they make, the care they give, the struggles they’ve experienced to see that your life be better than theirs. And then, one day, they’re gone.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu is a series of short, thought-provoking stories. Ranging from space exploration to mythical creatures, Liu paints one vivid tale after another. One of which uses the same title as the book: The Paper Menagerie. In it, a son grows up. His mom comes from a different country. The son doesn’t care to understand her. Instead, he tries to ignore her influence. When she passes away, he’s left with simple origami creatures that come to life to remind him of her.

By the end of the story, you’ll find yourself putting down the book, picking up your phone, and calling your parents.


No more than three

A country sets up a colony on a deserted island. The new inhabitants are citizens of their original country. They abide by that country’s law and customs. Everything they do is in the name of their homeland. But after a generation or two go by, those living on the island no longer see themselves as members of that parent nation. They see themselves as islanders. After all, that’s all they’ve ever known. And from there, it’s only a matter of time until they want representation. Why keep listening to the mainland when all they do is collect tax? Why shouldn’t they have their own government? You know how the story goes.

But now imagine that the colony is no deserted island. Instead, it’s the moon. And imagine that the parent isn’t a single country. Instead, it’s Earth. In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, this is the exact scenario the characters find themselves in. Add in a sentient computer and you have the makings of great sci-fi.

One big takeaway I gained from this book is: to make decisions, the smaller the group, the better. One decision-maker is ideal, three works too. Anything over that and nothing ever gets done. History is full of large groups that had most of the decisions made for them by strong individuals that led everything.


Self improvement in the form of fiction

When you find yourself burning out on how-to self improvement books, try picking up some fiction instead. Not every genre has something to teach. Many genres are great for simple relaxation and entertainment. However, if you’re in the mood to learn but need a break from the constant note-taking, there are some amazing fiction books out there. For your reference once more, the four listed here are:

  1. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  2. Dune by Frank Herbert
  3. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
  4. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

Sci-fi is always a thought-provoking genre to check out. Parables are also great as they take a nonfiction topic but translate it into fictional form. For instance, The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason. Biographies also provide a good option as well. Biographies read like a story even though they are nonfiction. For instance, Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang.

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