I’m on a roll today. I keep thinking of things I want to write about and have to do it before I forget what they are and how strongly I feel about them.
Some friends of mine and I started a book club about three years ago, and it really took off, in a manner of speaking. About three months in, however, a member chose a book that some people found a little risqué, and those folks stopped coming. At first I was a little perplexed about how someone could read the Bible with all of the tales of adultery, incest, greed, and murder, and be offended by a liaison between two single people. But whatever…I got over it (sort of). In any case, it’s a story for another day.
Today I’m on fire with some information that I heard on a CD with commentary about Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. You see, at our initial meeting we decided that one of our guidelines was that we were going to read fiction and only fiction. All of us read so much nonfiction because of our jobs and other responsibilities that we wanted stories about people past and present, old and young, rich and poor. It’s been quite an adventure for all of us. We’ve read classics such as Pride and Prejudice, children’s books like Because of Winn Dixie, and thought provoking books like The Screwtape Letters. There’s no need to go on and on about our literary feast. Suffice it to say that we’ve been fed, both by the books and by our shared discussions.
Back to our choice to stick to fiction. Some members decided not to stay with the group because in their words, “Life’s too short to read fiction.” Sad, I thought, when I considered all of the many characters I’ve come to know over the years. However, I haven’t really been able to articulate what it is exactly that describes why fiction is so marvelous…until today.
As I listened to the commentary on the Fahrenheit 451 CD, one of the speakers, Orson Scott Card, spoke the words I’ve been searching for. He said that every society in the world values fictional storytelling. Even people who don’t want to read the stories often enjoy movies or television. He didn’t discount the value of nonfiction at all, but he did say that the truth of fiction and nonfiction are very different. How? When you read nonfiction (or write it), then that writing remains true only until more information is discovered that can wipe out the “facts” of your journalism or scientific inquiry. With fiction, however, such is not the case because there are no new facts. Everything about the story is contained within its pages. No matter whether we like or dislike the ending of a story or book, we can’t add anything to it. As Card said on the CD, the authority of the author of a work of fiction is absolute.
That’s deep, isn’t it? On pretty much a daily basis, I’ll read something in a textbook, newspaper, magazine, or online and wonder just how accurate it is or just how biased the author appears. You know what I’m talking about because we’ve all had the same experience! Quick case in point. For years, there was nothing new in personality theory, and now we have the Big Five (I’m serious about that for those of you who are a little skeptical). The term IQ was considered quite important a few years ago and now there’s Goleman’s emotional intelligence and Gardner’s multiple intelligences.
As I’ve been thinking about the “facts” that I’ve read and studied, I’ve also been thinking about the books we’ve read in our book club these years. When Janie had to shoot Tea Cake at the end of Their Eyes Were Watching God, it sort of made my heart hurt. She really loved him, but what choice did she have? When Skip had to give up baby Faith in Blessings, I was a little down. Why couldn’t he keep the baby, marry Jennifer, and live happily ever after at Blessings? We all hated that Diamond died in Wish You Well, but Baldacci is the final authority on that. We were all happy that Pi and Richard Parker made it to Mexico in Life of Pi, and sometimes I think about Pi and his wife and children living a “regular” life and sort of smile to myself. He deserves it after his ordeal!
I hope you can understand what I’m trying to convey. Reading stories, long and short, is much, much more than escaping real life. It is real life, true life.