Story is Change

I want to read more fiction. When I look back at the books I’ve read, the preponderance of non-fiction titles always surprises me, partly because many of the people I know and respect read a lot of fiction and partly because I once did, too.

I grew up reading fiction of all sorts and absolutely loved it. Late in high school, I fell in with the wrong crowd and experimented with non-fiction, but college is where things shifted. Other than an English Lit class, I don’t recall reading fiction during those years and I failed to cultivate the habit after graduation.

Having a child changed that. Reading with my son meant fiction was part of every day of the week. This went on for years and it was glorious. When we eventually reached the nebulous young-adult fiction category, we were swimming in wonderful options (our favorites were Rascal and everything by Walter Moers.) I treasured sharing the experience, but I also loved the books.

When that season passed (honestly, I’m still in denial), I fell off the fiction wagon and returned to the non-fiction fold. It’s not just books, either. Amidst the stream of online articles and essays, few (intentionally) fictitious words are found. I even choose documentaries more often than not.

I wonder if non-fiction feeds a subconscious desire to accomplish something while reading. Does part of me view fiction as somehow insubstantial or best reserved for vacations?

Sensing something amiss and determined to reverse the trend, I thought I'd ease my reentry with a few short novels. This led me to Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, a little book that made me fall in love with fiction all over again.

It’s not an obscure find; it was on many lists of best books last year. Some of you may have read it (if so, we should find a coffee shop with a big enough table and talk about it.) One review called it “infinitely quotable.” I wholeheartedly agree.

I never liked to hear the doorbell ring. None of the people I liked ever turned up that way.
She does not ever want to live away from me, she explains. “Promise?” I say. She curls up in my arms, all elbows and knees. “Promise.”
There are trees everywhere you look at this place. Someone, long ago, must have believed that trees could solve anything.

The book was so good I often stopped to try to savor and absorb it all. The sentences are masterfully direct and at the same time, the brevity leaves room for the unsaid and unknown. I've never read a book like it before, and haven't stopped thinking about it since.

Novels have the ability to shift our perspective and cultivate empathy. The stories take us to unfamiliar places and in the end, leave us changed. They help us see the previously overlooked and rethink what's possible. A book I read recently included the beautiful phrase, enlarging the circle of we. It was non-fiction, of course.