Fiction, or Why I Don't Take Antidepressants
Meeting other readers of fiction is like meeting a fellow member of a secret society. There is an instant rapport. Once your status as 'fiction reader' has been established, you are free to drop names and titles without explanations or qualifiers.
Many people are shocked to learn that, when it comes to books, I almost exclusively read fiction. That's not to say I don't read the newspaper or various magazines, but when it comes to book-length slices of reading, I want lies.
Should I find myself in a rare novel-less situation -- on a plane ride home from vacation, say, after having finished all the books I brought with me -- I experience profound distress. The void it leaves is debilitating.
Ugh, I think. Now I have to deal with real life.
Does that sound scary? Maybe it should. The truth is, without novels and stories, without legends and myths, poetry or performance, I think life would be intolerable. Yes, people can be friendly and conversation is nice; nature is beautiful, and science continues to baffle and impress. But unfortunately, none of those things power me to get out of bed in the morning. Novels do. They're my chemical-free happy-pills.
I once made the mistake of stating aloud, in a crowded coffee shop, that I believe I've learned more about life from reading fiction than non-fiction. The place fell silent and some people stared. A couple of middle-aged men actually scoffed.
Sure, there is an element of escapism involved. You might say I get my fill of non-fiction simply by living my non-fiction life. But it's not all about consoling myself after a bad day, or living a vicarious life I wish was my own. Sometimes it's about those things, but on a deeper level, it's about empathy and understanding. There is something soul-enriching about feeling the unfelt and witnessing the unseen via the unreal but no-less-true experiences of a figment of someone else's imagination. You might say that, at its best, a work of fiction is the closest thing we have to getting to know the unknowable Other.
It's the age-old disparity between what's true and what's merely factual. We can learn about others by reading their biographies, but I believe we can learn something deeper by reading their stories.