Monday, July 28, 2014

The Bookcase for Fiction

Due to some recent conversations and because this has been stewing in my mind for a while, I think good fiction needs its respect. Summer has always been the time to lose yourself in a story. Last summer it was Flannery O'Connor and John Henry Newman accompanied by countless pots of tea. This summer it's the top of my I'm-Embarrassed-I-Haven't-Read-This-Yet list and more pots of tea. There are a lot of books on that list but if I told you which ones, well, I just wouldn't.

This is me when I'm home. If you know where this is from, then we've just became best friends.
Last summer I also skeptically began watching Doctor Who and barely passed the Eccleston test of stupidity tolerance. The timing for Doctor Who actually could not have been any better as I embarked on my year of travel. I told myself I wouldn't continue watching it abroad (because who watches TV when in Europe? Amiright?) but before I knew it I was through all of the David Tennant series and suddenly Matt Smith as well. Travelling sometimes alone and sometimes with friends but always in an unfamiliar place, I learned to empathize with the likewise Baggins-esque choice between home and a different world. I don't think I encountered many aliens or dragons in my journey (there were some strange folks and Gaudi houses), but I did often think about these stories and their characters because they resonated with my life.
I'm no English major, but I think that's sort of the point of fiction. It must be grounded in something that resonates with humanity - in fact there's no way it cannot be. Civilizations were built upon stories, myths, legends, and epics and even the craziest of fantasy creatures is connected to something we already relate to or know. My dad is quick to remind us that there are only about seven basic plots because these are sort of inscribed in humanity. When properly told, stories do more than just entertain and provide an escape from reality. Fiction helps us understand ourselves through the eyes of someone else. Good fiction helps us live better lives.

In other words, fiction isn't a time wasting escape from our "real world problems"; it tells us how to deal with them. Humanity hasn't changed much from when Shakespeare penned his plays. We still overthink, ponder unexplored death, and obsess over our inaction like Hamlet. There's something comforting about discovering this in someone else's words and witnessing the echos of the past come alive in the present. It's why we form attachments to fictional characters and long deceased authors. It's why we weep at the graves of men we never knew.

That's my soapbox for the day.

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