Last Friday was Book-Return Day was I had to go to school not because I had any requirements to satisfy but rather I had to meet various people to claim my books back. Of course it wasn't the most productive 6 hours of my life but hey, it's not like I have a life.
Escapist and Unnecessary
In a mailing list I'm in, those two words have been used to describe one of my favorite genres: SF&F. And to a certain extent, I agree.
Writing, after all, is a form of art, and art is usually enjoyed not for its utilitarian aspects (in fact, it's anti-utilitarian since it usually consumes money and space yet usually has no practical purpose) but aesthetic qualities. (Of course there are exceptions to this rule and there are some objects which blend art with practicality... such as that flat-screen LCD monitor, which looks really cool yet serves a purpose at the same time.)
The genre of fiction is also an exercise of imagination. Some read it to escape the world. Not every person in the world has to read a particular work of fiction, not even the Bible (okay, hard-core "Christians" will probably flame me now). So in a certain respect, it is *ahem* *ahem* escapist and unnecessary.
But so what? Not everything in life has to be necessary. And fiction tells us as much about the world as it is escapist.
Also, compare a how-to-do book (work of nonfiction) compared to a fiction book. If person A was reading the how-to-do book of, say, building a house, he'll either find it useful (if he's building a house) or he won't (if he's not building a house). A fiction book, on the other hand, (to a certain extent), doesn't really care if person A is building a house or not. The fiction book tells a story and person A might have various reactions to it. It might make him laugh, cry, smile... the whole gamut of feelings. He also might attach a religious meaning to it, might remind him of a childhood memory, or simply relate to it in a specific, certain way unique to him. Sure, he doesn't find it useful per se, but it does provoke from him certain feelings, emotions, and thought (some might even relate this experience to philosophy) which characterizes himself as a human being.
To put it in another way, I'll use the overused statement "we eat to live, not live to eat". One might say part of living is part of reading (although not limited to feeling). I mean we've been described as social animals. And while reading as an act might strike certain people as anti-social (since we do it alone and don't want to be disturbed by others when doing so), it is also one of the most social acts a human being can ever do. Why? Because we're engaging in a conversation. The author (and some might even say the book or narrative itself) is conversing with as many people as there are books printed. And similarly, the reader is reacting to the author in various ways. The reader might even react to another reader in different ways. We're actually interacting with the world hence denouncing the escapism usually associated with fiction. And of course, it's also necessary because we'd probably go insane if all we did was eat, drink, and sleep.
Fiction is part of living (although by no means is it the only means that we "live"). There are also several reasons why we read fiction. We can't just be robots, doing only work and stopping only to rest and recharge. And the experience of reading a particular book is unique in itself and can only be done by ourselves and no one else.