An odd thought struck me earlier as I was reading City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare, being a fanboy: “Reading fiction is a waste of time.” Verbatim, that’s what came into my mind.
I know there are plenty of people who agree. I am not one of them. Where the hell did that come from?
I wrote recently about the joy of books in my life. There are so many of them to get through–most of my limited shelf-space is double- or triple-stacked, and most of the volumes are non-fiction: science, theology, philosophy, the writer’s craft, queer studies. All of it important to me, all of it stuff that would make me feel productive.
But I sit reading fiction, limited to one shelf. It won’t get me credit, won’t allow me to explain anything, won’t contribute to anything more than (thus far) an abortive dream to write a novel.
Writing a novel. “Reading fiction is a waste of time” bubbles up, I think, because I’m envious. I have some skill at non-fiction, perhaps even personal essays like this one; world-building, writing in detail, and well-tuned dialogue, I fear, might well be beyond me.
All of that could be true, but still: “Reading fiction is a waste of time”? I call bullshit on my own inner life.
I might try to convince myself otherwise, along with only God knows how many other voices in my culture, but I know deep in my bones: Stories matter. Stories sink into the bones differently than even the best non-fiction, and differently than music. Stories take time. Stories are messy. Stories remind me of things I know and cause me to rebel against lies and injustice–perhaps especially if that story embodies either. And there is nothing wrong, o lovely and impatient inner teenager who wants so badly to be a scholar, with sinking into the romance of a world not mine and letting it move me.
Reading fiction is not a waste of my time. I know this, because stories matter. (Even, I suppose, the ones I struggle to tell?)