People Who Don’t Read Fiction, or, A Defence of Fiction

Chances are, if you’re reading my post here, you are a fan of fiction. After all, I’m all over the internet as a writer and reader of fiction. Also, taking an assuming leap here, chances are that if you are a fan of fiction, like I am, you too are confounded by people who do not like or refuse to read fiction.

I have to admit that I see people who don’t read fiction in a strange light. Just like I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with people who don’t like animals. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people who don’t like fiction. I think it’s strange, but it’s not nearly as odd to me as the animal thing.

My friends and I have discussed this topic at length, and the main rationale we hear from people who don’t read fiction is that they don’t/can’t learn from it. Honestly, this infuriates me. I don’t want to insult anyone, but if you can’t learn from fiction, you’re either too lazy to figure out its purpose or you lack an ability to sympathize, or you have some combination of the two.

Understanding fiction isn’t for lightweights. Not only do you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, but you have to be able to read between the lines. Reading and comprehending fiction requires skill and intuition.

Now, I read non-fiction as well. I enjoy books on history and philosophy and science. One of the best books I’ve ever read is a non-fiction book called Sex with the King. But the thing about non-fiction is, you don’t have to go an extra step. All you have to do is read a straightforward argument and decide whether you agree or not. You can go an extra step, but you don’t have to.

With fiction, you’re always presented opposing views. Sure, the author leads you in a certain direction, like a thesis would, but you get to see all the sides. This isn’t always the case with non-fiction. Exceptional non-fiction will provide a full view and use counterarguments, but there is still no requirement that you think outside its confines.

I must admit, I’m tired of people trashing fiction, especially genre fiction. If you open your mind, you can learn just as much, if not more so, from fiction of any kind. And it’s usually a much more enjoyable journey. Some books I would liken to non-fiction, as far as what they can teach a person, include: The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, A Thousand Acres, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and Beautiful Monsters.

Those are just off the top of my head. What fiction books would you consider more educational than some non-fiction?

Point of View: N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season Will Change Your Reading Life

There are so many things in N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season that will change your life as a reader and a writer and a human that I can’t touch on them all. I just don’t have the time and space. So I’ve decided to touch on the story’s point of view.

I’ve shared my opinions on point of view extensively on both blogs. I have strong opinions, mainly that different points of view should not be mixed in the same story. It’s a major pet peeve of mine both as a reader and a writer. As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to your book, novella, or short story you stick with the narrative style, tense, and point of view you started with. There are no takebacks.

Writers who mix things up always make me feel like they’re simply trying to get unstuck, which doesn’t make for compelling or convincing reading.

I’ve read books where one character is in first person and then another character is thrown in and their view point is written in third person. Usually this is done because the story needed extra information that the main character couldn’t provide with her limited point of view and the writer couldn’t think of a different solution.

I’ve read books in series where all of sudden in the third and/or final book, the author realizes they’re stuck, the story arc can’t go further the way they started, so they have to throw in a new narrator. Yeah, Allegiant, I’m talking to you. No, Veronica Roth is not the only guilty author out there, but I was particularly upset with Allegiant, so it has to feel my wrath.

The Fifth Season swung out unexpectedly and toppled me off my Perch of Judgement.

The story is written from three different points of view: Essun’s, Syenite’s, and Damaya’s. There’s a purpose to each choice because they show different aspects of the complex world Jemisin has created. Essun, in her 40s, shows us the dangers and consequences of hiding what you are in a world that hates your kind. Syenite, in her early 20s, shows us what it means to follow the rules and dictates of an order that will control everything about you and destroy you if it can’t. Then Damaya, only 8, shows us what it means to be discovered as the other and the painful lessons the world will use to break your spirit.

That doesn’t sound too different from your average coming of age story despite the separate narrators, right? Well, Essun’s story is written in second person. Syenite’s is in close third person. Damaya’s is also in close third person, though I feel there is greater distance with her narration. Perhaps because I’m closer to Syenite’s age.

At first I was a bit shaken as a reader. I haven’t read much, if anything, written in second person. And I’ve never been exposed to second person point of view for such a long piece. Mixed with the third person parts, I should have been outraged as a reader.

I waited to be. And I waited. And then I was hooked.

Jemisin’s skill as a writer so pulled me in to each character’s story that I couldn’t help but be enthralled. I was too excited to pick up different threads and try to figure out where all of them lead. I was floored and I was schooled. I have never encountered a writer with enough skill to leave me satisfied with mixed points of view.

One of the keys was her consistency. Each point of view was given nearly equal time to the end. And the second person narration didn’t change into anything else. Plus, the story starts out in second person, in the prologue, and I think that was a genius choice. That the narrative jarring didn’t happen after a third person narrator started things off was important because I don’t know that a lot of readers have been exposed to second person point of view. So moving to the strange from the familiar would have been a bad choice.

Besides, Jemisin can write. She just can. Her words are magic.

If you haven’t read or heard of The Fifth Season, you should remedy that. Before the third book in the trilogy comes out this summer.

I still have strong opinions about point of view and I don’t think it should be messed with lightly. But if you know what your aim is, and it reflects not only the structure of your story but your characters and world perfectly too, do it. I will be much more willing to fiddle with my points of view in the future now that I’ve seen it done effectively. And I will give stories more of a chance when point of view is altered –but the author needs to sell it, and not do it simply because they’ve backed themselves into a corner.

Forethought. Forethought and purpose are everything.

 

*Please note that this post contains affiliate links. If you click on a link and decide to purchase an item I’ve mentioned I will receive a small commission from the seller at no extra cost to you. All funds are put back into E.V. Writes. Thank you in advance for your support.

Perception

world map

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the fact that I’m a reader and a writer, that I’m fascinated with perception, especially the ways people perceive themselves and those around them. I can’t claim to have a background in psychology, since I haven’t studied it since high school—and we all know that that does not count—but I’ve had a lifelong interest I’ve continued to cultivate on my own.

As a writer, perception is something I have to be aware of when it comes to the characters I create. Even within the same story, I have to know how the protagonist sees themselves and their enemies, and I have to know how the antagonist sees themselves and their enemies. Their inward and outward perceptions provide plot fodder, tension, and so much more to a narrative.

As a reader, it’s good to be in tune to these perceptions if you want to get the most out of what you’re reading. Especially if you’re reading about a character with a lived experience so different from your own who makes decisions you never would.

As a human being, it’s also important to acknowledge others perceptions so you can be a more sensitive individual.

Recently, a few things in my life have culminated to throw ideas of perception at me. First, these quotes from Socrates arrived in my inbox: “The nearest way to glory is to strive to be what you wish to be thought to be.” And, “The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.”

Second, this exchange occurred at my day job when one of my more acerbic clients came in. We chatted while she got organized, and she told me that days before she tore a strip off someone at the Canada Revenue Agency. She followed this up with, “I don’t like to do that to anyone, but I was mad.” Honestly, I can easily see her doing this often. Even routinely. She has a very cutting personality, and she has no qualms about making her displeasure known.

You never know if people say things like this because they shouldn’t enjoy yelling at other people, when in fact they do, but they don’t want you to think they’re horrible. Or whether people don’t realize their own habits and ways of interacting with others. This perception of herself versus my perception of her are so at odds. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle. If she was a character, I could easily play with this aspect to add depth to my story.

Lastly, this happened, also at the day job. Just before Christmas, my co-worker, who is a wonderful person but not the most enlightened when it comes to people not raised in small town, Conservative Alberta—and those who identify with those ways—was helping one of our clients who is from the Philippines. She asked about his Christmas plans and then proceeded to ask him if he celebrates Christmas. The man is very quiet and didn’t really answer her verbally, but he did wish her a Merry Christmas as he left.

When he was gone, she commented that it must be hard for kids of other faiths to see their fellow students in school doing all their Christmas stuff with their families. Unfortunately, such narrow generalizations are a routine occurrence where I work. I have learned to just ignore them because doing otherwise is like smacking my head against a brick wall. There are comments that raise my hackles and I have to interject. This was not one of those comments.

All I could think as I gritted my teeth in exasperation was, “People of other faiths actually have celebrations of their own that are just as culturally significant to them as Christmas is to spoiled white kids.” I couldn’t stop myself from pointing out to her that a large part of the Filipino demographic is catholic, which means they celebrate Christmas. That elicited an, “I didn’t know that.” I bit my tongue against my caustic reply.

This example illustrates Christian privilege as well as the western perception that people who don’t celebrate Christmas are missing out on something fundamental. This lack of cultural knowledge, or even sensitivity, drives me nuts. When you know nothing about how other people live and experience life, perhaps you should keep your mouth shut and not make snap generalizations.

In any case, as riled up as it can sometimes make me, it’s important to know that other people don’t perceive the world as I perceive it. And that’s not always a negative. Even here, I said Christmas is only significant to spoiled white kids, which is not true. I know that’s not true. But my own issues with the holiday sometimes allow me to forget that and I’ll perceive it in such an ugly light.

Perception speaks to so much about our society and social makeup. There are so many endless possibilities when it comes to exploring it whether for science, fiction, or entertainment.

What’s your best story about someone else’s perception of themselves or someone/something else?

English Nostalgia: I’m Finally Feeling the Pull

student-life-recap-by-tahmid-munaz-via-flickr

It’s no secret that I graduated from university without a clue as to what I was going to do; it’s in my site’s bio after all. Grad school was my equivalent of hell at the time. Honestly, it still is.

In September of 2013 I worked briefly at the University and did not feel one ounce of nostalgia. I was happy to be on campus laughing maniacally at all the students running around already stressed. That’s not to say that I didn’t have my own stress, just that I was feeling my share of schadenfreude.

Still, people were asking me then if I was missing school. Those who had graduated with me were. Those who still had a semester or two to go were happily back in the swing of things. I was perfectly content doing my own thing while job hunting. I didn’t miss a damn thing about my hectic university days. I was still exhausted merely thinking about them.

It’s been three years. And I am still not missing school. I have no desire to return to school. But I am feeling some nostalgia for my life as an English undergraduate.

I’ve realized recently that while I don’t miss the work, the actual time-consuming, hair-pulling, stress-inducing, sleep-depriving work, I miss campus culture, I miss learning, and I miss meaningful discussions.

Given who I am and what I love, it should be no surprise that my English nostalgia involves me missing book discussions. That’s likely why I was so keen to start a little book club with my close friends, though I’m not quite getting out of that what I had hoped yet. It’s a young club. I also have the Anxiety Ink Book Club to scratch the itch.

I’ve had a stagnant year on the creative front, which is likely why I’m finally feeling the pull. 2017 has to see some big changes for me because 2016 has sucked.

So there, I admit I’m feeling the loss of student life. Adulthood is not what adolescent me thought it would be. Growing up should come with a warning label: Not to Be Taken Lightly.

 

*featured image: student life recap by Tahmid Munaz via Flickr

A Bad Reading Habit: Anxiety and Comfort in the Known

mirror by Paul Keller via Flickr

It’s no secret that I suffer from anxiety. It’s not something I talk about a lot, but those who know me and any readers from Anxiety Ink are well aware of the fact. It’s something I’ve struggled with most of my life though I don’t take any medication for it. I’ve learned to handle it myself for the most part.

This year, 2016, has been particularly stressful. I’m noticing that I’m falling into some bad habits in an effort to comfort myself. While comforting oneself is not a bad thing, my coping mechanisms are leading to some not-so-great outcomes.

One, I’m closing myself off. That’s never good. I’ve been using my job as an excuse; it’s extremely social and while I do get peopled-out fast, I’m using that as a fall back. It’s ok to be tired, it’s ok to not want to do stuff all of the time, but lately I haven’t wanted to do anything with anyone at all. My friend wanted me to have coffee with her last week and I almost had a panic attack because it was too close.

Now that I’ve acknowledged the pattern I can take steps to fix it. This isn’t the first time and is likely not the last.

Two, and this is the one that’s bothering me the most (which say a great deal about me), is that I’ve developed a terrible reading habit. Every once in a while, when I can’t decide what I want to read next, I pick a favourite book off my shelf. The book I select is always one I’ve read before, and what I like to do is flip through and do a cursory re-read. I also do this when I’m tired and don’t want to read a single chapter of my current book-in-progress (I’m a binger).

My intention is always to simply read a favourite scene of my already-read book before I go to sleep. However, I always end up reading basically the whole thing and stay up later than I would have just picking up my current read.

Months ago I decided I had to stop doing this because it was really cutting into my reading time. My goal was to read 68 books this year –I can’t get that done if I’m not reading new books. I did better with that reason in mind, then fell off the wagon after reading two particularly sad books. I just wanted to be in a safe book that wouldn’t tug on those threads.

Lately I haven’t been diligent about picking up my current-reads, and not because I’m not enjoying them. I finally had to stare the problem right in the face after perusing my to-read list and seeing all the awesome books I want to read.

This habit of picking up “safe books” is yet another coping mechanism I’ve developed because my life is not without stress right now.

While this coping mechanism is not nearly as worrisome as the other, it stems from and leads to the same thing. I’m putting up walls and falling back into the known because I can’t seem to control things lately. With the books, it’s about me being afraid to pick up a new read because I don’t know what’s going to happen. Picking up ones I’ve read gives me complete and utter control of the experience because I can take away exactly what I want.

Same goes for me not wanting to go out and socialize. It’s two sides of the same problem.

I wish it was as easy as realizing what the issue is and telling myself to stop. I really do. Baby steps are required, but I’ll get there. I’ve already started a new book with a set completion date and I have coffee plans for Friday. As well as a couple of other social events for the month.

The big stressors are the things I actually need to deal with. I’m working on those, though much more slowly.

I have to ask, does anyone else suffer from this bad reading habit? I don’t actually reread the entire book, which would be one thing, I read the parts that will make me happy. It’s an odd and controlling experience I hadn’t really thought of until I stopped to write this blog post.

 

*featured image: mirror by Paul Keller via Flickr.