Monday, January 9, 2012

A Blogger's Got to Start Somewhere – or Top 10 Reasons to Read Fiction

Welcome to my blog, a fiction lover’s paradise where all good books come to live forever and eat warm cookies!

Okay, that was a little over the top, but what the hey.

I am a voracious reader. If there is anything that is more meaningful to me as an art form/mode of entertainment than fiction, I don’t know what it is. Great books can change your life. So without further ado, let’s get down to the top ten reasons why reading fiction ROCKS and why it should be your top choice when it comes to entertainment:

Number One – Fiction is an Escape Hatch from Life
Reading fiction transports you to another place, another time, sometimes, even another planet. Really. It’s happened to me and all of my friends and family who read. It’s probably happened to you and your family and friends. In fact, I will guarantee it – assuming you read fiction. Non-fiction doesn’t work at all. You’re still here, reading about gardening. But pick up a novel about Africa and you can hear the lions roar, feel the heat beating down, and watch the sunset turn the sky orange over the Kalahari. This can be incredibly beneficial if your life is stressful, providing a mini-vacation from your life. Sorry, no other form of entertainment transports you that much – not even movies.

Number Two – Lifelong Friendships with Your Favorite Characters
I remember meeting Willy Wonka. He is SO cool! Do you know him? If you read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl as a tyke, the answer is yes. Characters speak to you when you read (when you watch a movie you just watch it, you don’t live it the way you live a book). They tell you secrets, sometimes things that no one else knows. They include you in everything they do. They welcome you back again and again and everything is as it was the first time you read the book, unlike when you try to return to a fondly remembered place that, since you saw it last, has often morphed into something lurid or derelict or just overcrowded.

Number Three – Portable and Quiet
Yes, Game Boys are portable. They are also annoying. Beep! Explosion, beep! Laptops can be fun for watching movies or playing a game, but unless the laptop is very small, they can be heavy and awkward, plus you worry that someone might steal it when you aren’t looking. When’s the last time someone stole your book? Uh…never??? Now, with the advent of eReaders, there’s a little more of a concern, but with prices coming down like rain in Ireland, most people probably won’t bother stealing your Kindle.

Number Four – The Ultimate in Voyeurism
While the characters speak to you and include you in their lives, unlike in life, you don’t have to participate. You won’t make mistakes or say the wrong thing. No one asks you questions or demands that you explain what you’re doing there. You’re just like a fly on the wall: watching people fight, make up, have sex, kiss, and so on. It’s like being a Peeping Tom without the criminal record.

Number Five – Yawn-free Education
One of my favorite books is The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. I knew it was about the plague in a remote village during the 17th century, but whoa! Did I learn a lot! Yet, not for one moment can I say that I felt like I was reading a history book or being taught a history lesson by a dry old professor. Instead, history came alive so much that I didn’t really notice the spoonfuls of education I was getting along the way. The same can be said of novels set in submarines or in the Pentagon. You learn as you read and never know it’s happening until you look up and say, “Hey! I’m practically an expert about detective work on a homicide scene!”

Number Six – Truly Interactive Entertainment
There’s a lot of talk about interactive entertainment out there and role-playing games like World of Warcraft are hugely popular, but in any of them do you really get to feel the pain the character feels or cry the character’s tears or truly fall in love with another character? Well, in fiction you do. With a great book, you find yourself often stepping away from the fly-on-the-wall role and right into the protagonist’s shoes. You become them. Top that, video games!

Number Seven – Imagination vs. the Movies
Every time I see a movie based on a book I’ve read and loved, I’m disappointed. There are so few exceptions to this that they prove the rule rather than disprove it. My imagination is just so much…better. And so is yours. And so is everyone else’s. No movie will ever do the story, the one that that played in full-color 3D with stereo-surround-sound and the other three of the five senses magically working in your head, justice.

Number Eight – Bad Guys You Love to Hate
No matter how big a jerk a real-life person is, they’re always also somehow vulnerable and there is a little guilt from hating them full-on. Not so with villains in books! You can hate them with a vengeance, openly root for their demise, and it’s just plain fun to do it. I remember relishing my hatred for Hatsumomo, the wicked scheming geisha in Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Oh, she had to get hers! What a horrible horrible woman! Kill! Kill! Could you ever imagine openly hating someone like that and cruelly wishing for their destruction in real life? I can’t.

Number Nine – New Perspectives
Not only do you get to step into the protagonist’s shoes in good books, sometimes those shoes are very unlikely. Like the autistic main character in the brilliant The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon – who knew metro stations could be so scary? Or my recent favorite: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, with its dog protagonist. I could feel myself getting furrier, my voice growlier (okay, that last is not a real word, but I wish it was).

Number Ten – Answers and Insights
When I read a great book, I’m often hit with insights about my own life. One True Thing by Anna Quindlen comes to mind, a novel about a beloved college professor’s family that has been dominated for years by the charismatic father. The truth is that the family and their seemingly rock-like father was quietly held together by the retiring homemaker mother, Kate, a fact found out by the daughter (who never respected her mother) when Kate is diagnosed with cancer and the daughter is called home to help. There’s a scene in the book when her mother just wants to talk and be heard and it breaks my heart every time - because a lot of what she tells her daughter someone probably should have told me. But the book told me. And that was a beautiful thing, and maybe a better thing; my one true thing that I was able to hear in a novel when a familiar voice may have gone unheeded.

So that’s it – top ten reasons reading fiction blows away the competition in the world of entertainment in my oh-so-humble opinion. What do you think? Why do you read fiction?


  1. Tara, I just love this essay. Better than many magazine articles. As your exposure grows, others will enjoy reading it, and take away some truly insightful comments on some books worth reading. Isn't that the point of reading about writing for those of us who don't write ourselves? You have a unique, well thought out voice, and I would encourage you to post the posts you deleted, maybe in an archive section? I would love to read them.

  2. Thanks, Yvette! Appreciate the feedback (and compliments)! :)