Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why do people read fiction?

I once told someone that I had written a novel, and she said, "Oh, I don't read novels," in that oh so condescending way. And I answered, "What do you read?" "Oh, I read non-fiction. My shelf is filled with lots of non-fiction that I can curl up to after the end of a long work day." "I see," I said with a smile as I thought, "That is me with my novels."

If you exclude my science, health, and psychology books, my major reading pool is from the genre of literary fiction. For me, non-fiction is supplementary reading; it fulfils a specific role: to inform me of the facts of an issue. For the life of me, I cannot imagine my life exclusively on the non-fiction realm. I think I can even go as far as to say that if I had two books covering, for the most part, the same issue, except that one is a novel and the other is a non-fiction literature, I am pretty sure I would read the fiction first. Even James Frey's memoir/novel was suddenly more appealing to me once I found out that there was quite a bit of fiction in it.

Why do I read fiction and why do I prefer it? Fiction is not an escape for me, even though it certainly can serve that role sometimes. Fiction allows me to interact and engage reality in a way that I cannot do for non-fiction literature. Consider my reading of two books with a somewhat similar issue. Reading “As Nature Made him” by John Colapinto, a non-fiction, I was so consumed by the pain and trouble of the main character to really engage the issues as much as I would like. But reading "Middlesex" By Jeffrey Eugenides was different. Knowing that it was a novel, a creation of another mind, allowed me the chance to create. With "Middlesex", each sentence was not set in stone. I could question why a sentence was written a certain way or even why the story was written a certain way. This allowed me to readily dissect the issue of the story, to see the role of each player, and to see how the characters could have acted differently to ensure a better outcome. However, with non-fiction literature, I cannot play as much (at least, my mind thinks so). Fiction allows me to read non-fiction in a more productive way.

I would like to think that there are some people who feel the same way as I do. If not, why is there a genre called Creative non-fiction, non-fiction that reads like fiction?

Fiction writers create something from what already exists (yes, even in sci-fi books). And I read fiction because it gives me permission to create as well. The writer may see his/her world as blue, but I am allowed to see it as periwinkle blue, or blue with a splash of lavender. With fiction, I am not just watching (as I feel that I am with non-fiction), I am also a participant, a fellow creator. As a result, I too have responsibility for the life of the book. With fiction, I am not limited to the point of view of the writer. I can disagree, I can acquiesce, and I can do a mixture of both. The result is that the book exists on a richer level in my mind.

Reading fiction more readily promotes a crossing-over--a chance for the reader and the writer to exchange parts of their worlds, which gives you a slightly different story world, and one that is grounded in the world of the writer and the reader. It is no wonder that any particular fiction has a somewhat different meaning to each reader.

Fiction is an all-access pass to the reality that a book addresses. If the writer’s world is a scary or troubled one, the fictional world gives one a shield that still allows one to explore the full breadth of it.

There you have it--this is why I read fiction.

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At 24/5/06 7:28 PM, Blogger Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Rosemary!

What a beautifully-written piece in praise of fiction. I kept nodding my head as I read because I so agree with you. I read a lot of fiction myself, but every now and again I will pick up a book from the non-fiction genre, especially when the subject matter is such that I want facts and nothing but the facts.

I will definitely have to explore the creative non-fiction genre some more - is that the same as narrative journalism?

At 25/5/06 12:13 AM, Blogger Rosemary Esehagu said...

Hello Lotus,

Thank you for your comment! I am glad there is someone out there who agrees with me.

Yes, I believe narrative journalism is another name for creative non-fiction. The writers in this genre are not only interested in presenting facts or truth; they are also interested in the words or language used to tell the facts. They are sensitive to the impact that language can have on how a "truth" is received.

At 28/5/06 5:17 AM, Blogger Susan Abraham said...

Hi Rose, I've only just seen this post and again, what a lovely, thought-chewing item. I want to come back again, read it properly and savour your words. But also, to let you know that I'm back after having to go offline urgently for a few days from something unexpected. Look forward to reading more of your clever, philosophical lines.

At 28/5/06 6:10 PM, Blogger Rosemary Esehagu said...

Hello Susan,
I missed you! I kept checking your blog, waiting for your daily posts, but none came.

I don't post daily, but you do, and I've come to love visiting you daily. I was starting to get worried there. I hope everything is all right wih you.

Wishing you my best.

At 29/5/06 4:27 AM, Blogger Susan Abraham said...

Oh thank you, Rose. I thought you would have been bored already by my blog. I have no idea how people view me and sometimes worry that you may feel obligated to leave comments.
I'm back so not to worry. If there really is anything going on and it's private, I'll send you an email.
I know why I read fiction Rose. It is my childhood lifeline grown up with me. I read stories for the pure love and passion and oceanic intensity of a sparkling imagination that flows through my mind, heart and spirit that only the enchantment of storytelling can alight within me.
Also, it colours, shapes and grants me liberty in vocabulary. A sophisticated vocabulary for the English Language which I love so much. Fiction enhances my love for life, literature, the classics and the writen word. It embodies the essence of my own being as a writer and reader, here on planet earth and in my thankful prayers for the far beyond.
And thank you Rose, for such a priceless post.


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