Fairly regularly I meet people who inform me that they do not read fiction. Usually this is pronounced smugly as if conferring virtue. After reading David Brook’s review in the New York Times of Al Gore’s new book (The Assault on Reason, which apparently is not fiction), I now have a good internal response – “hey, nobody ever died from contact with pomposity.”
Many things I have learnt in life have come from reading fiction. Things about relationships, about feelings, about experiences that I haven’t had and about experiences that I have had. I have learnt geography, history, culture, bits of science, maths, music -- scraps of knowledge from around the world. Reading fiction has at times been an escape for me: an escape from situations about which I felt unsure, or where my emotions were overwhelming, where I felt sad or lonely or inadequate. In turning the pages of a novel, I am transported out of my personal quagmire into somewhere else. Even if it is another quagmire, at least it isn’t my own.
One of the things I appreciate most about novels is that you learn in a non-threatening, informal environment. Reading Tamora Pierce’s Magic Circle fantasy series has led my quick-tempered child to the realisation that self-control is a vital part of life and taught her a technique (simple meditation) for relaxation and self-control. A thousand lectures from me would not have taught her this and I would not even have thought of it.
In writing fiction myself, I am not trying to be didatic. I do hope though that my readers will learn about the world and people as they were in this specific historical instance. And I do hope that my delight in and love of words will be contagious.