Reading fiction: a subversive act

Recently a friend told me, I hope your novel is selling well. I won’t read it though, I only read non-fiction.

She’s not alone. Realism is in right now and has been for nearly twenty years. I’m just coming down from a “realist” phase. I read non-fiction, I wrote non-fiction. It pays pretty well, by the way. What got me back to fiction? I considered what it could do offer as we talk about our lives, and examine problems and how they affect the human soul. Fiction, because of the what each person can bring to it, goes into depth in ways that realism can’t. It’s a good tool for times like these, because there are things that realistically, can’t be said or revealed without getting yourself into trouble.

With a few exceptions, history is written by the winners. Royal families and the wealthy have the resources to destroy evidence, poison, slander, and isolate those who stand against them. That’s why the fanciful, where those people aren’t mentioned by name, might tell a more accurate tale of history than the written record holds. Additionally, most women and people of color have been written out of western history. Someone needs to tell their stories, even if they are only stories that might have been.

Author Claire Tomlin, the biographer of my new favorite historical woman, Dora Jordan, has an important suggestion: read Charles Dickens. Put yourself back in those slums with the commoners. Regain your sense of empathy. It’s a wonderful thing. Reading fiction can develop your mind’s eye. It takes some brain work because not every detail can be shown. It’s intimate too. You have to get into the heads of others. Some might be people you’re afraid to know.

What IS can be beautiful, especially when it comes to nature. But what could be and might have been has a place too. Otherwise, we limit ourselves. This might be an odd thing for a scientist to say, but there, I’ve said it. Read a fiction book and tell yourself it might have been true. It might even be better than the truth.

One thought on “Reading fiction: a subversive act

  1. winwardk

    I enjoyed this post, and I should read your novel soon. Coincidentally, after reading so much “required” non-fiction for reviews, news, etc., it was refreshing to recently be inspired by my son’s interest in the TV series “Childhood’s End​” to read the book by Arthur C. Clarke​.


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