WHY do you read fiction?

The title of this post is a question I have been  prompted to ask as a result of the discussion at creative writing group today.

The tutor mentioned that she identifies with characters in the books she reads and, talking with a fellow student afterwards, it appears that this is something she also seeks from her reading material. I have had conversations with other friends who also speak of getting inside the skin of a character and really seeing and feeling things along with them. This is not true of me.

I read, primarily, to be entertained and perhaps also to learn. I need characters to be plausible and interesting, with at least some of them being likeable. I could not read about people if I was not drawn in to care about them unless the plot itself was very challenging. I am always aware, though, that fictional people are creations – they are not real and I couldn’t, for that reason, identify with them. If they experience stuff that is, in and of itself, touching and emotional then I will feel sympathy and wan’t the best outcome for them. I could not, however, empathise with a product of someone’s imagination.

The only time I will be drawn to stuff on a personal level is when it is autobiograpical or biograpical. It is then about a real person, and therefore may have resonance for me. Having said that, I will be more interested in biographical work featuring people and situations about which I would have no experience or knowledge than fiction about someone very like me feeling things like I do (if any such person exists!!!)

I guess, on the whole, I read to see things differently. Is this true of any of you, or is this desire to find the familiar and comforting in stories (and perhaps other forms of entertainment too) the more usual motivation? Enquiring minds would like to know…

6 thoughts on “WHY do you read fiction?

  1. Unless I am on holiday the only thing I manage to read is the book chosen for me at book group. That varies from fiction to non depending on the chooser. I can’t say I have a particular preference, have read bad and good in both. My own choices for the group have worked out at 2 non fiction (both sort of biographical) and 4 fiction.

  2. I think I read for very much the same reasons you do Dith … iI’ll usually read most books to the end but if the characters are boring or I find I just don’t care what happens … well, those ones go straight back to the library.

    I read quickly so if I’m not engaged quickly then the book is done, though I will turn to the back and see if there’s an interesting ending in that case … and if there is I’ll give the book another go.

    One thing I do find is that so many book club recommendations (I’m talking Opr*h etc, not a local club) are BORING! … more books people think they should be seen reading not books they actually want to read … people’s tastes are so wide ….

  3. I read copiously at times, and at others I barely touch a book for days on end. I do make a time in the day for reading though – over breakfast! and sometimes in the office waiting for the computer to warm up.
    Anyway what do I read? Fiction and non-fiction in about equal measures. It really depends on my mood. Fiction though is meant to be read as a good story, it needs to keep me wanting to turn the pages, to find comfort in the reading, but not necessarily in the story. I’ve read romantic novels, historical fiction, detective, thrillers, all sorts.. For me I think the style of writing has to be the key. I will go back to good books time and again because they are enjoyable to read even if I have a good idea of the storyline or who dunnit. At time though I will find an analogy which touches me, which I can empathise with, or a new thought which I might not have previously considered but Makes Sense. Although you may not find an empathy with the character, I think I find it with the idea of the author which must have some from a personal feeling to have made that much sense to me, so I am understanding an autobiographical feeling Through the character in the book.
    I do really enjoy the Patrick O’Brian books based on the high seas. To me these take real historical sea battles and fit sea captain and surgeon characters into the settings, take a little license with the otder of history and the characters involved, but you know the essence of the events are still there. The descriptions of ships and rigging and life are too detailed for some people but I really love them. I could go on.
    Other good fiction books/authors in my eyes:
    Ellis Peters – Brother Cadfael (historical fiction)
    Wilbur Smith – all his books (Safari, Egypt etc. but from a personal knowledge).
    James Clavells – Shogun (Japan’s culture, but long)
    Dick Francis (horseracing based from a former jockey to have the knowledge of the sport, but weaving make believe crimes into the sport. Very believable)
    Audrey Niffenegger – Time Travellers Wife (a circular tale, but written so well that I don’t mind it jumping about. I’ve read it twice in the past year and will read again)
    Terry Pratchett – Discworld series (A fantasy with enough detail and good stories, and humour, to make them well worth reading. His alzheimer’s may actually help with the writing…)
    Other books which I have empathised with in the past year or so – Night Train to Lisbon (author forgotten), Kiterunner, The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks), The Smokejumper (Nicholas Evans), Pompeii and Enigma (Robert Harris) und so wieter…

    Happy reading Dith. Keep trying new things and see what jumps out at you. Maybe if you don’t try and empathise you’ll enjoy the fiction books for the story and relaxation rather than for the analysis. Mx

  4. I think I read to go to a different place from where I really am. Often to a more pleasant place, but sometimes to a more interesting or exciting one. Also to engage my emotions and perhaps to experience catharsis. I can’t read trash with cardboard characters – it has to be real. Although the style could be less than sophisticated if the characters and scenes are engaging (I went through a Stephen Donaldson phase and a Susan Howatch phase a long time ago – both have appalling style but fantastic narrative pace and believable characters). Mostly I only read women as I rarely find sympathetic characters in books written by men – although I make exceptions for David Lodge, John Mortimer and Nick Hornby as they can be very funny.

  5. I read fiction because it is the closest I can get to telepathy. To slip inside someone else’s stream of consciousness and to view the world through their eyes. To experience lives that I can never lead. To call it escapism doesn’t do it justice really.

    The kind of fiction I read tends towards the magically realist. That way I can see the mundane in a new light.

    Gah that all sounds hideously pretentious…

  6. Thanks for all your replies, people. It is really interesting to see the diverse approaches to reading.

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