I altered my reading diet recently and added more fiction to my regular intake of short and long form non-fiction. The results have been both edifying and surprising.
Here’s what I’ve discovered so far.
I like stories more than I am eager to admit. Stories make me hungry — at times, insatiable. I don’t need to know everything but I do want to know what happens next and what happened before and why everyone is acting so crazy as if this is all normal and okay. I keep reading in the hopes of becoming satt (German for satiated, full; pronounced “Saht”).
Stories make me want things. I want the characters to be nicer to each other. To believe in themselves, to stand up to the people who are hurting them, to not do that absurdly risky thing that will get them into trouble or possibly leave them dead.
I wish I were so brave but that she weren’t quite so brazen. I want him to stop drinking and smoking and wreaking havoc and I want those kids to settle down and listen to the teacher. Reading on means that I often don’t get what I want. Reading on means reconciling the fact that I am a witness but that the story is not mine to direct. Reading on means letting go while hanging on.
Disinterest to Interest
Strong writers compel me to read about things I don’t think I care much about. Like basketball. Sherman Alexie writes about basketball a lot. His characters shoot hoops on a regular basis. They are full-court warriors and incurable has-beens. Alexie reaches me through basketball in ways that humble and astound me. He makes me love the game and the people playing it. I see his characters both soar and fail on the court and arrive at an understanding of people and life that I can hold on to.
Children’s literature features a surprising amount of death, evil and violence, in addition to lots of talking animals.
Authors of fiction enjoy the privilege and power of omniscience. They can tell me what each character is thinking, feeling, planning, remembering — or not. Inside someone else’s head, I’m willing to suspend all kinds of disbelief. For the time that I am reading and have fallen into the story I suddenly understand that I am experiencing other people’s non-fiction. And then it all makes so much sense.
Reading fiction reminds me that what I often think I know is wrong, may change, or simply may not apply.
I think I am glad that I have no desire to create fiction.
I am extremely glad and relieved, however, that so many people do feel called to write fiction and that a few excellent samples actually reach my hands.
Reading fiction encourages me to change my mind. More than once.
In the books I read I encounter folks who do stuff I would never do, who say things I wish I had the nerve to say, who follow paths I never knew existed and yet can speak to me with the strangest intimacy.
What remains after I put down a good novel is often not the story itself. Rather, what lingers is the sense of loss and separation. I am no longer in that narrative but scenes may return and I may remember the feelings I had at that certain twist in the tale.
I miss being immersed in that carefully crafted other world.
Hence, the desire to seek out the next, and the next, and the next. So many other worlds offering so much promise.