Why Read a Novel at All or, for That Matter, Why Write Them?

One could hardly be a writer of fiction without wondering just what it is that draws us to reading at all. For me, the answer is quite straight-forward. Fiction allows me, within the scope of three or four hundred pages, to live an alternative life. Not confined to the mere escapism of a television series or current movie, fiction draws on deeper connections, because it exists to a very large part within the creativity of our own minds. Rather than presented to us in full dress, we craft our own visualizations of the streets in wartime Paris, the wild mountains of the American West or the look and feel of two lover’s first or last encounter.

My older brother, an engineer of great talent and depth, once told me that he far preferred radio over movies as an entertainment venue. When I asked him why, his answer summed it up neatly: Because the pictures are better. I’ve thought about that a good bit over the years and come to realize that’s exactly the power of a well-written novel. The pictures are indeed better, because they are sketched in by the writer and leave to our own minds the filling in of highly personalized detail, exactly the kind of participation that makes reading both memorable and transporting.

Fortunately, in this age of e-books and print-on-demand, the pleasures of that transport can be had for the price of a modest dinner out or, in the case of e-books, half the cost of a pack of Camel cigarettes. A good value, that, especially if you’re trying to cut down on smoking.