18 March 2010

Fiction and life

I have a deep mistrust of people who don't read fiction, but I usually can't justify that mistrust. It feels a little smug. I usually extend that to those who only watch movies for cheap entertainment, finding more moody cinema to be inscrutable. This morning on NPR, a british writer (Sebastian Faulks) expressed the justification quite well when reading in the voice of a Mary Sue character--a lover of fiction--from his recent novel (A Week in December):

But surely [fiction] is just the opposite [of escapism], said Gabriel. Books explain the real world. They bring you close to it in a way that you could never imagine in the course of the day. People never explain to you exactly what they think and feel and how their thoughts and feelings work, do they? They don't have time or the right words. But thats what books do. It's as though your daily life is a film in the cinema. It can be fun looking at those pictures. ... But if you want to know what lies behind the flat screen, you have to read a book. That explains it all.

The omniscient narrator or overly personal narrator found in books give us insight into others' worlds and our own.

Pump Six, from a book of short stories by Paolo Bacigalupi, describes a similar moment of "what is the value of art". In an Idiocracy future, Americans spend time working at jobs they can barely understand as society literally crumbles around them; they have become too intellectually deficient to understand how to maintain the civil engineering infrastructure. In their off time, they screw and take drugs. You could argue that life's value comes from our enjoyment of our leisure time, but taken to this extreme all insight has been lost. This is the life of those who abandon books.

It may sound a smug conceit, but rather than a prediction it's a warning.

[ posted by sstrader on 18 March 2010 at 8:18:50 PM in Language & Literature ]