"The more you read, the more you will find your thoughts and conversation reflecting your reading, and the more you will want to read."
- Nancy Wilson, The Fruit of Her Hands"
I have always been an avid reader. From my earliest days, you could find me buried amongst a pile of books. I was the child who was caught with a torch and a good book under the covers at night (a trait I have apparently passed on to our eldest daughter!), the child who's imaginative play reflected the current read, and the child who's idea of a great trip out, was a walk up the road to the library. One of my most vivid childhood memories is the feeling of pride and elation when, aged eight, I finished reading my Mum's hardback, childhood copy of Johanna Spyri's "Heidi" all by myself. I had ready a whole book. A big book. An old book. And I felt the greatest sense of achievement for my little eight-year-old self.
Over the years, I have found the need, from time to time, to defend my love of fiction. It seems to me to be increasingly viewed as a waste of time, a form of escapism and a distraction from the more important things in life. With the introduction of the Kindle, people are finding it harder to separate the old art of reading from the current taboo subject of "screen time" and I am finding, that while fiction is loved and encouraged and promoted to our children... us adults feel some kind of pressure to read something more high-brow, and feel embarrassed about the latest fictional novel we have got our teeth into.
So I'm writing this little essay in defence of the novel.
From as far back as the history books take us, stories have captured our hearts and imaginations. Whether told, or acted, or read, fiction has succeeded in taking us to places we will probably never travel to, back to times we will never experience, and to people who view the world differently to we do.
I have learnt so much from fiction... I have travelled the world - sensing the smells and tastes and sights through the wonder of words... places, sights and sounds I will probably never experience with my real senses. But something of the essence of the wanderlust, the experience, the insight into another culture and space has been transferred into my mind and heart, in a way that a travel book or a non-fiction book could not reach me in the same way...
And then there is the time travel... experiencing history through the eyes of a fictional stranger... understanding the times, grasping the emotions... a new kind of empathy. I have seeped myself in the lives of the pioneer families of the wild west, I have looked on calloused hands, tired and spent through the industrial revolution, I have walked the road with wealthy victorian aristocats, and felt the exhaustion of the downstairs staff.
Fiction brings empathy... and understanding... and appreciation of life. It gives us heroes and heroines... wise words and stark warnings. Living books that let us live life through other people's eyes. I have learnt about wise parenting from Marmee in "Little Women", learned to cherish life and all the luxuries I enjoy from Kathy in "Mrs Mike", learned about equality and diversity from Atticus in "To Kill a Mockingbird"... the list could go on.
There is, of course, a lot of "trash" out there... but if our aim is always to learn something new, develop our understanding and empathy... deepen our sense of justice, or gratitude, or wisdom... or just simply immerse ourselves in the wonder and craftsmanship of a fantastic author... we can't go wrong. In the same way I vet what my children read, its helpful to vet what I read... that doesn't mean I only read the super-epic classics by Tolstein and the Bronte sisters, but it does mean I am wise about reading blurbs carefully, or taking recommendations, so I know the kind of thing I'm picking up.
Fiction has done so much for me... its opened my eyes to the world, and its an experience I am determined to pass on to my children... I want them to develop a love for other countries, an appreciation of history, a delight in an excellently crafted story...but lets not leave it there. Fiction is not just for children.
Its for us too.
So go on, pick up that book and let your senses and emotions and intellect be challenged and awakened and stirred by that novel you've been meaning to read!
And why not grab a cup of tea while you're at it!
Some of my favourite novels...
The classic authors (who've stood the test of time)...
To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
The Little House Series - Laura Ingalls Wilder
Anne of Green Gables - L.M.Montgomery
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S.Lewis
More modern authors...
Christy - Catherine Marshall
Redeeming Love - Francine Rivers
Timber Ridge series - Tamera Alexander
Abram's Daughters series - Beverly Lewis
The Help - Kathryn Stockett
Mrs Mike - Benedict and Nancy Freedman
A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne
Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernieres
Harry Potter series - J.K.Rowling