In How Proust Can Change Your Life, Alain de Botton, drawing from Proust's life, raises the question of why we read fiction at all.
He offers four answers:
1. The sheer pleasure of escapism.
2. Reading fiction gives us the opportunity to enter into an unfamiliar world and feel at home in it.
Penelope and Odysseus, some 3000 years removed from us.
3. Reading fiction gives us the opportunity to expand the range of what we think is possible for ourselves.
Joseph K. in Kafka's The Trial, showing us the meaning of persistence.
4. Reading provokes us to notice details that we would otherwise overlook.
Have you ever noticed that when an American man accidentally bumps into someone else he says "Oop," not "Oops"? I had never noticed this before, and yet I do it myself. (The novelist Nicholson Baker drew my attention to this.)
To these reasons for reading fiction, I would add one more of my own...
5. Reading fiction increases our tolerance for ambiguity (what Keats called our "negative capability").
When I read fiction, I am forced to give over my preconceived notions to the imagination of the writer.
Reading Homer, I learned to look out over an ocean without assuming that it's blue (see Homer's "wine-dark sea").
Reading Kafka, I learned to admire a hero who is perpetually confused and indecisive (see Joseph K.).
In short, from reading I have come to appreciate that the world does not fit into neat categories. Reading opens my mind to the in-between spaces -- which, after all, are where we live our lives, aren't they?