For the past few years, I’ve treated fiction as a luxury. Reading seemed like something I would get to — when I had time to relax. Instead, I “prioritized” my reading time, focusing on self-improvement, health, social issues, environmental concerns. I thought that by tackling these problems (both internal & external) that I could settle back, without guilt, and enjoy a good book.
Instead, I recently discovered that my reading choices had converged into a monstrous cacophony of voices telling me what to do, how to be, what’s wrong with the world, why I had a hand in it and how to deal with the guilt and stress. It was a sudden realization — like when someone hits the mute button on the TV and you realize how annoying it’s been all along. The more I read, the more I felt I should read. I’ll get to the fiction later — there’s no time to waste in fixing these problems!
And then, I stopped reading altogether. It was too much. There’s no fixing me, much less the world.
But then I remembered something – dimly, from my past. I picked up a book, pushed past my anxiety and guilt, and fell into a story. When I lifted my head a few hours later, I knew. Fiction isn’t frivolous. It’s not simply a diversion for people who don’t care about the real world. Depending upon the skill of the author and the willingness of the reader to explore, it can be a conduit for transformation in your own life. It can have tremendous power to shift your thinking and give you strength for difficult life experiences. Empathizing with a character’s loss yields far more personal insight than reading a magazine article with, say, the top 10 ways to deal with grief.
Writing this now – it seems silly. Why did I think “experts” telling me how to live in their black/white terms would get me further on life’s journey? Fiction gives me depth, complexity – and most importantly, the ability to interpret truth and meaning on my own terms through personal experience.
But don’t take my word for it… (ha, get it, Reading Rainbow…sigh)