Good authors generally write about subjects they know, have personally experienced or researched in depth. This familiarity with their subjects is what makes well researched fiction a pleasurable read.
I can slip into the badlands of the Wild West courtesy of Louis L'Amour's westerns; or the controversies surrounding the sinking of the Arandora Star during World War Two; or slither into the mind of a Greek subject during the dying days of the Turkish Ottoman Empire through the (translated) words of Nikos Kazantzakis.
In fact, good fiction is often a better teacher than research itself. For students of modern piracy in the Indian Ocean, Elmore Leonard's 'Djibouti' must rank up there with any scholarly text authored by Professor [insert name here], Department Head, Maritime Security at the National University of [insert city name here].
I don't wish to take away from historians or nonfiction books.
A well written history book is a novel in itself: the heroes, villains, conspiracies, suspense, excitement and so on but with the added bonus that the story is real (a little 'poetic license' by the historian aside). History, at the personal and collective level, makes all us individuals.
Nevertheless, for most, nonfiction tends to be too dry; a way to induce sleep rather than to curl up and relax on a sofa with a nice cup of coffee and an entertaining book to read.
Reading is one of life's greatest pleasures – up there with drinking wine, eating mangoes or durians (depending on your cultural background!).
Reading virtually anything is better than reading nothing. There is no substitute for the written word. It is powerful, final and immutable.
Yet, good writing can almost never be interpreted the same way more than once. It is different each time.
All of us learn valuable life lessons from fictional characters, such as the (Great) Zorba the Greek?
"This is true happiness: to have no ambition and to work like a horse as if you had every ambition. To live far from men, not to need them and yet to love them. To have the stars above, the land to your left and the sea to your right and to realize of a sudden that in your heart, life has accomplished its final miracle: it has become a fairy tale."
- Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek