Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Trouble with Reading

I was thinking the other day, why am I such a bad reader? Why is it so hard for me to do some real, solid reading, as opposed to my typical 3-6 pages a day?

I've determined that it's a fiction v. nonfiction thing.

Air travel, for instance, seems like the perfect time and place for solid reading beyond the 6 page barrier. Still, I never seem to even crack open that novel or even really see it until I've returned home and replaced it on the bookshelf. Pathetic. Yet on that very same flight I managed to completely consume a number of magazine articles, lengthy ones, mind you, and even read through the first 15 pages of the latest political expose madness in the airport bookstore while waiting for my flight. And that novel just rests tucked away in my carryon bag.

Fiction - stories from another world, not necessarily otherworldly in the alien sense, but certainly not from the here-and-now which we know and love and live in. It's the unreal, however real it may seem.

Nonfiction - stories from this world, that directly affect/infect this world and its populants. It's real for the most part, save tabloid journalism and books by would-be/washed-up celebrities trying to make a cheap buck at someone else's expense, however unreal it may seem.

So what's the difference? Why can't I concentrate on fiction but can eat up the nonfiction without breaking sweat? It seems I've just answered my own question -- "without breaking a sweat" is the key.

Fiction necessarily requires the full participation of the reader. I've got to put my whole self into the story if I'm to breach the first barrier, the fact that it is fiction, the unreal passing itself off as real. No one ever wrote a bit of fiction with the intention that the reader would disbelieve the whole thing, the entire premise. Fiction is intentionally real and unreal at the same time.

Nonfiction, on the other hand, starts and ends in what we know, the here and now (or in the case of history, the here and then). There is no barrier to breach and no participation needed. There is no suspension of disbelief, just the invitation to disagree should an opinion be given, and I guess that in itself is one entre to reader participation, but it's not required.

I love the fact that I'm a writer. I hate the fact that I write so little. It's high time that I breach the barrier to make the unreal real.

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