Futility of Fiction? I think not. Why do you read? Escapism or Something More?
There are so many reasons to read and I don’t believe there could ever be a wrong answer to the question. But, I have to admit to being a bit taken aback by a conversation I had with my son. So much so, I still think about it two years later. I don’t tend to share much of my personal life online, but this ties so much with reading that I decided I wanted to share, and see what draws other people to books.
So, here’s a quick version of the story. A couple of years ago my youngest son (then age 8) was debating me the merit of fiction. He was against it, and even still often acts like reading fiction is a chore. He’s a highly intelligent and wonderfully quirky child who loves to learn, he loves books, they just tend to be non fiction, closer to encyclopedias than stories. His reasoning to me was “What’s the point? I read the story, when it’s over I’m done and there’s nothing left. I’ve not gained or learned anything.” I was a bit aghast. Especially since we were in a book store, surrounded by wonderful fiction when he was explaining to me how pointless it was. He was describing what he saw as the futility of fiction. He made his points very calmly, but also quite adamantly. He was mystified as to what a person could truly gain by reading a fictional story other than a brief moment of entertainment.
As I tried to keep my composure from this quite unexpected expression of what I felt was almost insanity, or potentially willful ignorance, I tried to figure out where I went wrong as a parent to have him so misguided. I know he was only 8, still young with much to learn in life, but I still could not fathom how he had become so under informed on the value of fiction. I started reading to my boys as soon as they came into our lives, way before they could even understand the words. I’ve come to terms with this exchange, and I have taken it as a cue to look for more ways to teach him the meaning in even some of the lightest fiction at times. As a parent, I’m not sure if I could have done much different. I suspect he was bound to have to learn this lesson in his own way. And what’s important is what we do moving forward, not what may or may not have taught him to appreciate fiction at a younger age. Or at least to not question it’s merits beyond the surface level entertainment value.
To me there are so many wonderful life lessons that can be wrapped up in an engaging story. And part of the beauty of it is it can plant seeds of ideas for kids without them even knowing it. It can present examples of how to interact with peers, how to handle difficult situations, it can show you what is really important for true happiness. It can show them that just because a person is grown up, that does not make them infallible. Part of the beauty of these lessons buried in fiction is that they are lessons that can be learned even when you are looking for nothing more than a good story to escape into to. They are lessons you may never realize that you have absorbed.
I honestly think I read for escapism at times, and other times I enjoy getting a different perspective on life. I really enjoy books that have some underlying commentary about current politics or issues. I think I can find some value in pretty much any book I enjoy, whether it is breaking boundaries, or just presenting an old familiar fun story with a slightly different twist to keep it fresh. And without a doubt, there is no right or wrong reason to read. Any reason is a wonderful reason.
But this has me wondering what other people look for. My son seems to have come around and enjoys reading for the sake of the story as well as for learning explicit lessons. What about you? What are your favorite or most common reasons to read?
(And as an update, my son is currently reading The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander and is absolutely loving it! He is quite enthusiastic about it, and I have asked if he might be interested in sharing his love for the book on my blog. He’s 10, that may not happen. But I think if could be fun. And I love that he has found joy in fiction no matter what his reason for reading it is. Don’t get me wrong, I love that he loves his non-fiction books so much, but it does make me happy to see him also appreciate a fictional story.)