Why I Read: Fiction

Outside of the typical children’s books that I had a large abundance of growing up (the Bernstein Bears, for example), the first set of books I remember having as a kid was a series called Danger Guys by Tony Abbott.  The books starred two young boys named Noodle and Zeke, and they basically ran around having adventures and doing fun things like stopping a mad scientist from bombing their school, or saving the day when a haunted amusement park starts going crazy. As a seven-year-old boy, these books invoked in me a sense of adventure and the curiosity to pursue it.  Then we got Primestar (now DirecTV), and adventure went out the window in favor of Saturday morning cartoons on Nickelodeon.

Reading fiction, however, was a practice that never died in me.  The ember might have been cooling at times, but eventually I would pick up another book and the ember would shine with new light and warmth.  Whether it was kids books like Maniac Magee or Harry Potter, or the books we read in middle school like Where the Red Fern Grows and Light in the Forest, I loved reading fiction.  It took me to new worlds, some right here on this planet, some in universes that only exist on the page, like Fellowship of the Ring.  Fiction stands as the greatest mouthpiece for mankind’s very existence, greater than academia, the evening news, or any great speaker.  Civilization is founded on narrative, fictitious or non.  Here’s three reasons why you need fiction in your life.

1) Imagination.  I wanted to say escape, but imagination fits better here, because that’s what you’re using when you read.  You can visit a whole world in an afternoon with a good book, and your mind is what takes you there.  It’s a great way to forget the world around you and immerse yourself in one beyond your wildest dreams.  However, you never fully escape this world, which leads me to reason #2…

2) Enlightenment. A great novel will not only paint a beautiful picture of another world, but will teach you a great deal about this one.  This is especially true of science fiction,  particularly from men such as the late Ray Bradbury.  Bradbury taught me more about the human condition and its tendency toward violence than four years of theological study, especially through his short story collection The Illustrated Man. Good writers aren’t just writing stories for fun; they’re doing it to teach you something about life.

3) Escape.  OK, so this made it on the list. What are you escaping from? Well, stress is a good start! In 2008, the UK hosted a year of reading, and the results showed that 63% of participants reported feeling more relaxed when reading a favorite book or magazine.  I can honestly say the same is true for me!  I’ve been reading The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second installment in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series, and though it’s a real page-turner and exciting, I can’t help but feel at ease as I immerse myself in the universe Larsson created.

Anyway, if you need a break, or just want something to do, turn off your TV and go find a good fiction book.  Don’t know where to start?  Let me give you some titles that have always done well for me.

1) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter Thompson. Not a fiction book, technically, but nothing is more entertaining than two men on wild drugs trips searching for the American dream.

2) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  Excellent sci-fi work set in what is looking more and more like the near future.

3) The works of HP Lovecraft. Incredibly brilliant horror writer that really only has a small following.  Check out The Call of Cthulu and The Hound

4) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larsson.  Excellent books set predominately in present-day Sweden that do a great job addressing issues such as violence against women and sex trafficking.

5)  The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, an existential novel dealing with themes of love, sex and relationships.  Beautiful work that gripped me from the first page.

6) The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. A friend recommended this to me as a “postmodern novel.”  Pretty awesome read, I must say.  Deals a lot with the concept of language and identity, as well as real and unreal.  Apparently, parallel “negative” chapters, or “unchapters,” exist throughout the internet.

Any books you folks might recommend?  Let me know!

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One thought on “Why I Read: Fiction

  1. Hi, thanks for this well-thought-out piece on the essential nature of fiction in human life. Great to hear from a man who reads the stuff, since many men consider fiction a woman’s game. And thanks for the kind words about my translations of Stieg Larsson. Wish there really was a 4th book!

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