Today’s Daily Prompt is:
When reading for fun, do you usually choose fiction or non-fiction? Do you have an idea why you prefer one over the other?
I read both, I enjoy both. I write mainly non-fiction (for some reason I just can’t manage plot) but when it comes to fun I read fiction.
For me reading has always been an escape. When I was small I spent a lot of time ill with asthma, stuck at home and if hadn’t been for a house full of books (and a fairly constant stream of new ones) it would have been a life of constant boredom. Books took me away from the bed and the banana lounge in the family room. It might have been the Australian bush in ‘The Silver Brumby’, deepest darkest Africa with Doctor Doolittle, the English countryside with Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven and Famous Five or Narnia with C.S. Lewis.
Fiction gave me the world. As I grew older it gave me history, geography, an incredible love of language and a huge vocabulary. Constantly reading fiction even gave me a skill at writing.
During my teen years I discovered science-fiction, showing me possibilities of a future.
As I recently fought major depression my old favourites helped me through. Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, C.S. Forester, J.R.R. Tolkein, Philip K. Dick and William Gibson let me escape the pain and confusion in my head.
If you read enough fiction you find people you can relate to, an author (and their characters) who understand what it’s like to be you. Joseph Heller’s Yossarian in ‘Catch 22’ understand’s how crazy the world is and how ridiculous the rules that control us. Salinger’s Holden Caufield knows the confusion and pain of being a teenager.
In John Green’s ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ he gives us a main character who sees this in her favourite book, ‘An Imperial In Affliction’ by Peter Van Houten. She is a teenager with cancer and she describes it “as close a thing as I had to a Bible. Peter Van Houten was the only person I’d ever come across who seemed to (a) understand what it’s like to be dying, and (b) not have died.” I was impressed, Green understands what it’s like to be so struck by a book that seems to know what it’s like to be you. I bet he reads a lot.
As well as understanding you, fiction can also teach you understanding. Fiction provides a wide view of the human condition. Just think of the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Evelyn Waugh, D. H. Lawrence, Styron’s ‘Sophie’s Choice’ and Wolfe’s ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’. That’s only a partial list — search the web for best novels and you will find several lists of brilliant novels. The huge range of well-drawn characters in a variety of situations and the superb writing that means you understand, relate to and empathise with all of them. The novel teaches you the world and understanding of the huge variety of humanity.
If you would like a final argument in favour of fiction just compare the Modern Library’s list of 100 Best Novels with their 100 Best Nonfiction. You will recognise almost every title and author on the novel list while only a few on the non-fiction list will strike a chord. We complex, social, empathic human beings just love, cherish and devour fiction.