Why I still love reading fiction

Cover: Uppity Women of Medieval TimesYou have to worry when several of your favourite friends stop reading fiction and switch their allegiance to biographies. I’ve racked my brains and can honestly say I don’t believe I have ever  read an entire biography. If they don’t have pictures, I don’t even start. If they have pictures I only look at those. And if I do struggle through a couple of chapters, I always feel that, even if  truth is stranger than fiction (and I can so dispute that), it is not always very well written.

The closest I have got to a biography recently is a small non-fiction book on Julian of Norwich entitled Revelations of Divine Love. She is famous for this quote:

All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

She is less well known as the first writer of English who can be identified with certainty as a woman. And this in 1373. Translated from Old English, this is an uplifting, poetic read. Emboldened by this success, I moved on to the arrestingly entitled Uppity Women of Medieval Times by Vicki Leon. Fascinating, but not a biography and still not a patch on good fiction.

Cover: Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreFiction is like the little girl with the curl right in the middle of her forehead: when it is good, it is very very good, but when it is bad it is horrid. Freed from the constraints that truth telling imposes, fiction remains heartbreakingly creative, brave and full of surprises.

At exactly this point, a long awaited fiction hold came my way – Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Book Store by Robin Sloane. With a quirky main character, an eccentric book store, weird customers who read bizarre books that have been written in code, and a playful mysteriousness, it pushes the boundaries of fiction writing just as good fiction writing should.

Both books sat on my bedside table. I dipped into the Julian of Norwich but finished the day with a read of Mr Penumbra. I don’t know why, but I woke about twenty minutes later. The room had an eery glow that came from my bedside table. In my befuddled state I thought I might be having a religious experience. But no. It was Mr Penumbra’s fluorescent cover gleaming in the dark.

So now I can legitimately say (and I have waited a long time for this moment):  this book will leave you with a glow. It will light up your life.

Just as good fiction so often does.

9 thoughts on “Why I still love reading fiction

  1. Donna/Kebabette 8 May 2013 / 12:10 pm

    I feel compelled to say what a lovely post this is Roberta. I am a lover of non-fiction, and biography too, but you have absolutely captured the pleasure of getting stuck into a good novel. Kia ora!

    • robertafsmith 8 May 2013 / 2:35 pm

      I’ve already selected my novel for the long haul flights I’ll soon be undertaking. Will keep you posted!

  2. omgitsgrantccl 8 May 2013 / 12:26 pm

    I adore what you have to say about the yawning gulf between good biographies and bad biographies. A few Xmases ago I received Keith Richards’ “Life” and Simon Pegg’s “Nerd Do Well,” both of which are well-reviewed autobiographies written by pop culture icons of whom I am a big fan. “Life” proved to be a fabulously entertaining read (in fact I keep intending to reread it), overflowing with brilliant tales of debauchery and intriguing insights into the inner workings of the Rolling Stones. Simon Pegg’s book, on the other hand, was extremely light on personal details, however he found space to give meticulous accounts of the first time he saw all six of the Star Wars films, which i found painfully dull to read owing to my ambivalent attitude towards the films (i know, how blasphemous). So yes, in that case, when the biography was good, it was very very good, but when it was bad, it was profoundly disappointing.

    • robertafsmith 8 May 2013 / 2:34 pm

      Give Mr Penumbra a try, I’d be very interested to know what you think of it!

      • omgitsgrantccl 8 May 2013 / 4:46 pm

        Excellent, I’ll add it to my neverending reading list.

  3. amberskyef 8 May 2013 / 12:34 pm

    Ah, an Emilie Autumn fan, I see. I love her! Mr. Penumbra sounds interesting. I am currently writing bizarre/dark book myself, so any influences are welcome.

  4. Gallivanta 8 May 2013 / 9:23 pm

    Oh now I have seen it all; a glow in the dark book cover! Great post.

    • robertafsmith 12 May 2013 / 8:45 am

      This book will be a film one day – it is incredibly visual!

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