Yesterday I was having a conversation with someone about reading. They mentioned that they don’t read much. Fine, no problem, my partner isn’t much of a reader either. I said, it’s one of those “to each their own” kind of things. When she does read she says she prefers biographies, true stories. For a moment my little anxiety brain felt a spark of embarrassment. Am I embarrassed to read fiction? We’re both adults right? She reads true stories, I read fiction. I mean, I read non-fiction too. However, I read more fiction than non-fiction. I mean if you’re a writer you have to read, so even my fiction is for my writing. But still, AM i embarrassed to read fiction? What’s that say about me?
I shook those thoughts away and shared my thinking, not the entire split-second conversation with myself but the gist of it. In my late 20s I didn’t read fiction for about 5 years. I felt that it was a waste of time. If I’m going to be reading than I should be reading informational stuff or research or news or you know, real life. And if I’m doing anything with fiction it should be me writing my novel (I was working on a different novel/idea back then). That was my protest against reading fiction. Boy am I glad I grew up, and came out of it.
Fiction is not a children’s game. Much like acting is not for children or less serious people. We don’t chide each other for watching movies do we? Do you ridicule someone for going to see a play? Do you laugh at them when they say they have a favorite fictional show on TV? No. Okay depends, but that’s another story. My partner might not read fiction but he sure as heck watches it. Reading fiction is simply a different method of delivery.
Sure it takes a lot more time than watching it; I watched the show “You” on Netflix and will not be reading it, what for, I already watched it? That’s not a slight at anyone who reads and watches shows or movies, again, to each their own. But reading something provides you the opportunity to explore and go on an adventure with someone else inside your own mind. Yes it’s their story, their imagination but I see it like implanting their imagination into yours; they’re driving the car, taking you down their story-road. You’re still putting in work to see and digest what they’re showing you, imagining the characters, the setting, the actions. It’s you tasting their recipe and deciding if you like it. You connect with someone else’s mind behind the scenes and on your own time.
Reading fiction also gives you perspective into a lot of ‘what’ifs’. The book Binti is science-fiction. She leaves her family and her home land, something that no one else has done, to go to a prestigious university set far away on another planet. Sarah Beth Durst’s Queens of Renthia series is set in a made up world with vicious spirits that will tear you to shreds should the queen lose control of them. Girls are chosen because of their affinity for spirits to study and train to be a possible heir to the queen should she fall. It’s a story of hope and beating the odds when you don’t think you’re as good as everyone else and yet you know that you have something to offer, even if you don’t yet know where you fit. Both stories are based around themes we experience in non-fiction life.
Sometimes stories don’t have any obvious message. If you read murder mysteries you might not get some charming message to appreciate yourself, but I bet you’ll open your eyes a little wider at night when you’re walking through a dark parking lot. But who’s to say a story has to have a life-altering message? Don’t we just like stories because they play with our imagination? Don’t we think it’s awesome that animals play? Reading is a form of play, whether you see it like that or not is up to you. But it is.
Even though I might tell you sheepishly that the book I’m reading is a fantasy novel I will remind myself that I am not afraid to let my imagination live and play in this world. I will not harness it from interacting with the arts and entertainment of this world or the next. Of course we should have some kind of filter, there’s a lot of entertainment out there that’s not worth a fly’s spit, if that’s a thing.
Oh and by the way, I was getting my tire fixed when I told grown man at the counter that I would wait in the lobby with my book. He asked what I was reading. Huh? Oh, yeah it’s a fantasy novel. Turns out he likes fantasy. (Yes skeptics my brain goes their too, maybe he just said that to appease me the lady in front of him. Maybe. Maybe not.) He was interested in the series I was reading, Borderline by Mishell Baker. I at the time was reading book two, Phantom Pains, and I’m now reading book 3, Impostor Syndrome (which I’ll finish this weekend). You never know. Sorry to stereotype the guy behind the counter and be surprised he was interested but, isn’t that what we’re talking about? Should a grown man be embarrassed to read fiction?
My Challenge to You: Are you embarrassed to read fiction?
Next time you go somewhere, if you’re reading a physical book, bring it with you. Don’t put it in a bag, carry it in your hand or make it visible. Maybe no one will bother, go somewhere where there aren’t already loads of people reading books. Or heck if there are lots of readers, what are they reading? Maybe someone will notice your book. Or if you don’t have a physical book at the moment, get one. Engage someone you see with a physical book that looks interesting to you. Or if you’re a chatty bloke like me, refer to your book. Make a scene or story out of you and your PHYSICAL book. Have fun with it, be polite and respectful of course, but have fun. Then tell me about it. 😀 Are you embarrassed to read fiction?