In Defense of Reading Fiction 103. Minds Meeting


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In Defense of Reading Fiction 103. Minds Meeting

Previously we discussed how reading helps us live longer and improves our minds. This essay discusses how reading fiction helps us meet and befriend new people: authors. Authors similar and different from ourselves. Authors living and dead. Authors who may have shared that same crazy idea you had last week. You know the one.

As mentioned earlier, watching television, movies, even stage plays is essentially passive, certainly derivative. We watch how someone else–often several someones else and a bunch of technology–received, remixed and re-interpreted the author’s story. When we read a book, we engage the author’s mind with our minds.

When we read biography or history we look through the writing as through a filter at the reality behind the words. Reading fiction, we look through the words like a lens Continue reading


History, Economics and Fiction

Really effective literature takes you so deeply into the story that you don’t know or care that it’s fiction.

Max Gladstone‘s recent blog article, Jedi Econ, Sith History, makes that point in a thought-provoking way.

We, as readers, are partly forced to view the author’s world through the lens he used: sometimes as close as inside the protagonist’s head–knowing no more (and often quite a bit less than that protag). Older novels were written much like histories–James Michner‘s tomes spring to mind. His Hawaii and Alaska started with plate tectonics and Centennial with dinosaurs.

It helps, of course, if we understand and agree with the author’s world view, but sometimes the fun lies in an “unreliable narrator” who intentionally or not lies–perhaps to both himself and to the reader.

For avid readers of a genre, author or period, this immersion becomes problematic when the reader thinks she know more than the author, or feels that subsequent authors have betrayed the history, economics, religion, world force or what-have-you of the fictional world.

Which brings us back to Star Wars. In addition to the issues so ably discussed by Gladstone, the Star Wars galaxy is in danger of fracturing into several parallel universes. The “canon” laid down in the six (or three, depending on who you talk to) morphs into the “extended Star Wars universe” chronicled and dozens of books by a variety of authors. The Clone Wars TV series overwrites some of the extended universe with a different story. And the coming SW episodes VII, VIII and IX promise further muddy the water. (Not to mention Disney Inc.‘s demonstrated tendency to merchandise the daylights out of whatever they produce. Such as: we can count on there being a princess in the new series.)

My opinion? It’s all for the better. “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend.”

“May the Force be with you.”


Reading for Pleasure

A friend recently called reading a “fictional dream.” I totally agree. I liken it to the writer casting a spell upon the mind of the reader, which the reader welcomes.

Incongruities or just plain dullness can break the spell. (In science fiction, it’s most often crappy science. In fantasy, it’s often internal inconsistencies.) Then, no matter how good the setup or the storytelling, it’s hard to stay engaged.

Verisimilitude (following the thinking of Karl Popper) is critical at that point, making possible what Samuel Taylor Coleridge called the “willing suspension of disbelief.” While the suspension takes place in the reader’s mind, it is the responsibility of the writer to maintain the “spell” not waking the reader from the “dream.” J. R. R. Tolkien called it an “enchantment” which “produces a secondary world into which both designer and spectator can enter.” As distinguished from “magic” which “produces, or pretends to produce, an alteration in the Primary World” (from his essay “On Fairy Stories”).

I want to lose myself in the story. I want, for a short time, to be transported to a different time or place and be totally involved in the story.

“You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.” C. S. Lewis