Non-fiction teaches us through information and fiction teaches us through imagination.

I heard this during Glennon Doyle’s We Can Do Hard Things podcast with Celeste Ng, talking about her new book, Our Missing Hearts. I’m only half-way through the podcast, and they haven’t even started talking about the new book, but this brilliant reframe from the common notion that non-fiction is real and fiction is fake resonated with me and is now stuck in my head.

I love reading fiction so much more than non-fiction. I can get lost in a fictional story in a way I never do in a non-fiction book. Sometimes I feel like I should be reading more non-fiction, to learn more, yet I also know I learn a lot from good fiction.

I learn about human nature and how people think and feel about things, how they react to events and make meaning in their world. Exactly the things in which I am most interested. In my favorite book, A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving introduced me to characters that I still think about often, wrestling with faith and loss and fulfilling one’s destiny. In The House by the Cerulean Sea, TJ Klune creates a magical world that shows the best and worst in people and thereby illustrates love and sacrifice and loyalty and personal responsibility. The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell explores faith and belonging and friendship and finding our way. I’m realizing as I’m writing this that my favorite books share these existential themes of finding meaning and making choices, of love and loyalty and loss. The books I write share these themes, too. But there’s more I learn when reading fiction.

I also learn about history and times and places and all kinds of issues and lifestyles. In Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half I learned about passing and this unique little town in the south. In The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek I learned about the Blue People and about the Pack Horse Library Project, women riding mules to deliver books to the hill people of Kentucky. In A Gentleman in Moscow, I learned a little chunk of Russian history. The list is actually endless: learning about Afghanistan through The Kite Runner, about the modern American west, economic inequity, and climate catastrophe in Site Fidelity, about Korea from The Island of Sea Women and The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories.

To bring it back to Celeste Ng, her books paint rich, complicated pictures of mothers and daughters and the love and tension that exist in those relationships. It makes you feel like you’re not alone in struggling with the demands to fit into boxes that do not actually fit—to be perfect, to have it all and do it all and make it all look effortless—and the anger and resentment that comes from the thwarted expectation that following society’s rules will bring fulfillment. The devastation when the pressure-cooker explodes.

All of which brings me to the greatest thing fiction teaches me: I am not alone in my struggles. Through fictional characters we see real struggles, real emotions, real experiences that we all face or could face. We aren’t alone. And sometimes, in those best books, we also learn how we might get through our own hard times.

Non-fiction teaches us through information and fiction teaches us through imagination. I couldn’t agree more!