I’ve been on a fiction reading tear recently. In the last fortnight I’ve finished The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All by Josh Ritter, and The Midnight Library by Matt Haig—all with a mix of print and audiobook. I just started The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller on audiobook and am hopeful about it.
In the midst of this streak I texted my buddies that I was resolving to read more fiction.
“It’s an ongoing struggle,” I wrote, “to come to terms with the fact that I won’t be able to learn everything I want to learn via nonfiction books, so I might as well start to nourish other parts of my consciousness too.”
My friend Steve replied: “I feel like I learn a lot about the world from nonfiction, and I learn a lot about myself (and my relationship to others) from fiction.”
Couldn’t be truer. And when I said I typically tilt much farther toward the world, he replied: “While vast, it is sometimes less daunting.” Compared, that is, to ourselves.
Fantasy is of the solitary self, and it cannot lead us away from ourselves. It is by imagination that we cross over the difference between ourselves and other beings and thus learn compassion, forbearance, mercy, forgiveness, sympathy, and love—the virtues without which neither we nor the world can live.
Whatever the power of truth may be, literature’s own special power has always lain in fiction, that wonder we construct.