We were recently discussing some piece of fiction, and Chris mentioned he no longer reads fiction. At all. I immediately had a fit. I doubt that surprises you.
"Why is it important that I read fiction?" he asked.
"Because," I stammered. "Because ..."
Because it's a creative adventure. Because it's a doorway to other worlds, other lives. Because it takes us places non-fiction can never go.
All perfectly lovely reasons that I couldn't express at the time, I was so mind-boggled at learning Chris didn't read fiction. But I finally made one coherent point that hit home: I told Chris he should read fiction to set a good example for his sons.
Now, let me set out the facts in the case:
- Chris reads a lot. There are plenty of non-fiction books in the house, along with magazines, newspapers, etc.
- Chris and his wife Laurie read children's books to the boys. There's no shortage of reading in their young lives.
- Chris read a lot of fiction before he stopped. He groks the fullness of the classics.
Chris believes no fiction is as fascinating as real life. Possibly, but it can be a helluva lot more appealing. For example, Chris hasn't read one of my all-time favorite books, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. It's fiction. But he might read Lucky, Sebold's memoir. Both books deal with rape. The reality of Lucky made me put the book down and walk away. I had the same reaction when I reached the rape scene in The Lovely Bones -- but I was able to come back to that book, knowing it was fiction. Incredible, astonishing, unforgettable fiction.
Here's where you come in.
Vote with a post.
Or send me an email.
If you say it's important for Chris to start reading fiction again, he will. If you say it doesn't matter, he'll continue down his merry non-fictional path.
He has agreed to abide by the CI team's decision. In other words, he's already paying more attention to you than he does to me. Clearly, he is one of my children ...
I was going to go the easy route and fall back on a variation of my typical response, "Print is dead. Fiction is even more dead than non-fiction...espcially the really old stuff."
But then, I started reconsidering. I don't think reading fiction is critical for someone like Chris, but there are benefits.
Feels like a blog post coming on...a non-fiction blog post.
Oh, fiction, YES! It's a great escape from everyday life, one of the best ways I find to relax. It's a must for me.
Fiction. How else can you see the world not as it is, but how it might be, how it could be?
Non-fiction outnumbers fiction on my bookshelf by ten to one, but the fiction brings me back to center and connects me to the real world.
Nothing wrong with reading non-fiction, but fiction gives us a way to comment on/deal with reality in a way that makes us think but also entertains. Ask my students who devour To Kill A Mockingbird or Animal Farm every year. ( I don't think that scholarly works about race relations during the Depression or the politics of Stalinist Russia would create the same feelings.)
As an avid reader, I turned the question around and pointed the finger at myself. I pretty much read ONLY fiction. Why is that? I think it's because I appreciate imagination and creativity. Seems like current 'non-fiction' contains too much imagination and creativity for my taste these days. Give me Harper Lee's only published work any day!
For one thing, if fiction doesn't matter, then neither do I. My life's ambitions are all a waste.
I am a writer, songwriter, and playwright. While much of my work is inspired by "reality," my stories are told in the realm of fiction.
If you are going to discount fiction as pointless, then you may as well stop looking at art, marveling at architecture, or listening to music. All creative acts can be True and can teach us about both ourselves and the world. Sometimes better than any piece of non-fiction we can pick up.
A bit more on fiction:
I believe that one gift of fiction is its universality. When I tweak the truth or write totally from the ethers, I can create something in which almost everyone can find themselves. I think that can be more difficult with non-fiction, for a number of reasons (which I will enumerate if you want, but I'm being quite chatty enough for now).
Fiction allows us to put ordinary people into extraordinary circumstances. And it lets them behave in ways we wish we could. I'm not saying regular people can't be extraordinary. I'm just saying that sometimes I need inspiration - a push to be better than I am. And I'm with Jan. If I am reading a remarkably difficult reality, I am too busy dealing with my visceral emotional reaction to be inspired. Fiction allows me to temper that visceral emotion with distance.
You all are amazing. Look at the brilliant words in these posts.
I love this blog. I love this team. This is why.
I gave up on fiction at an early age. I find that reading self help books over time has helped me become the person I am and want to be. I can ceate all the fiction I need in my mind without reading someoneelse ideas, which are often times not worth even thinking about. Chris is the man!
I AM your friend. I have read more fiction than I will ever remember, and now read none. It is a lovely world to visit, but not a place I feel like spending time.
I love storytelling of all stripes, and a story doesn't have to be fiction to take you into worlds wonderfully beyond your own.
I'm curious as to why you feel that fiction is so important. There are so many ways to tell stories, so many places imagination and curiosity and exploration can flourish.
Anon, I respectfully disagree. I believe you have either misstated or misunderstood the nature and purpose of fiction.
"Self-help" books (an oxymoronic concept in my mind) are exactly about reading someone else's ideas. Any book is. Non-fiction still bears the footprints of the author that lead to his his point of view.
Truth is, given a lack of fact-checking and filtration from hyper-pedantic mediators or some cosmic council of lawgivers, I'm not sure that pure non-fiction can actually exist at all.
Note from Jan: Here's a comment Chuck emailed to me -- the first line relates back to yesterday's pic of my baby. :-)
You have a lovely daughter.
And Chris should read fiction.
Like Chris, I avoided fiction for years. I enjoyed reading about business success, about great business heroes, about business debacles. I enjoyed reading self-help books, history and theology. But in a wonderful novel such as The Life of Pi, we gets all of that and more. And a good novel invites, coaxes, teases us to think beyond the patterns that have imprisoned us.
To tie this all together, Albert Camus' character Meursault (in The Stranger) says this to the prison chaplain: "All of your certainties aren't worth one strand of a woman's hair."
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