In twenty-four hours of quiet reading we can finish a long novel covering a man’s entire life. In a traditional novel, the causes and effects most important to an author are expressed. We can see the results of characters’ actions on their lives. This is a prudent use of one of our most limited resources, time.
We have, in a novel, a case-study of a particular idea or emotion. If the novel is well-written we will see real people interacting with these ideas or emotions just the way we might expect to encounter them in our own lives.
Even a novel written in a post-modern style that experiments with uncertainty is having us reflect on life and how events can be connected in other ways than cause and effect.
If a novel does its job — and if we commit to reading — our lives are not lived as one life, but instead we have the depth and experience of individuals that have lived many lives.