Why do we read fiction?

By © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19135725
By © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19135725

A friend recently posted an article on Facebook ‘Striking Photos of Readers Around the World‘. At first it was the photos that captured my focus – they are stunning – but then I paid attention to the words. Words about reading.

reading is a refuge and an enlightenment” Paul Theroux, novelist and travel writer

For Kafka, books were ‘the axe for the frozen sea within us’; for Carl Sagan, ‘proof that humans are capable of working magic’; for James Baldwin, a way to change our destiny; for Neil Gaiman, the vehicle for the deepest human truths; for Polish Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska, ‘our ultimate frontier of freedom’,” Maria Popova writing  in Brainpickings and referred to in the above article

Without the word, without the writing of books, there is no history, there is no concept of humanity.” Hermann Hesse, Swiss poet and novelist

For me, historical fiction serves the same purpose as contemporary fiction. It can help us make sense of the world, allow us to enter the inner life and intimate world of other individuals and in the process understand more than we do of our most intimate friends and family members. We can learn how other people think, how other places and times are different from ours, how problems that we may never have to face are overcome.

Historical fiction opens our minds, allowing us to see events and issues – both contemporary and historical – from another perspective. Through past lives we can consider meaning and motivation relevant in today’s world and develop compassion and tolerance of the human race. We also learn, indeed one of the most compelling reasons readers enjoy historical fiction is to learn about the past. Through understanding the past we gain wisdom for living in the present. Through understanding characters motivations and decisions, whether past of present, we gain appreciation for the motivations and decisions of those around us and explore life’s important questions.

What do writers say about the purpose of reading?

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” George R.R. Martin

“We read to know we’re not alone.” William Nicholson

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” Oscar Wilde

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” Charles William Eliot

“Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.” Gustave Flaubert

“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” Anna Quindlen

“nothing factual that I write or say will be as truthful as my fiction.” Nadine Gordimer

Of course, reading can also allow us to escape today’s world for hours of pure enjoyment. A benefit in and of itself.

By © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19135725

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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2 Responses

  1. Escapism and to learn about life. I just finished On Beauty by Zadie Smith and I feel I learned so much about human nature, marriage, academia, life writ large.

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