Learning to love fiction

Search catalogueWhat is not to love about fiction…I am hoping to hear you ask…?

Horrifingly, several times in my library career I’ve been utterly dumbfounded to hear customers say they don’t read novels. What?!!! After several breathless squeaks  followed by a bout of dismayed spluttering, I’ve asked why ever not?

The puzzling reply has always been that they read for knowledge, want real facts and don’t have time to waste on make-believe or fantasy (I feel a panic attack coming on just writing these horrid words).

Search catalogueGoodness me, do real facts even exist? There has to be some room for doubt given all we’ve heard about fabricated memoirs ( Yeah, you James Frey), optimistically embellished science and medical research (Ben Goldacre) and if we accept history is written by the victors, the whole truth schtick is looking a bit shaky.

I am on a mission to convert non-fiction readers to fiction.  Throw away your computer manuals, biff  interpretative history and say adiós to self-help bibles, but I need you, our faithful blog readers, to provide the compelling and irrefutable reasons for why fiction does matter.

To get you started here is my 10 cents worth:

  • Novels are steeped in human truths, often with immaculately researched and detailed plots embedded in real events.
  • Good novelists provide the creative spark which can allow fact to take flight, taking readers into the interior lives of both real and imagined people.
  • And finally, isn’t it healthy to walk in other people’s shoes ( Jimmy Choos and Hush Puppies) and attempt to see life through other people’s eyes, or from another perspective?

Fiction lovers bring it on … why should we all read fiction?

More: Why I still love reading fiction Roberta

Walking, Talking

Living Dolls is another of those must reads for Feminists. It discusses the worrying backlash against feminism and a return to sexism.  Talking primarily about society in the UK it dissects the hyper-sexualisation of women and girls. Images from popular media to internet porn have reversed social taboos so that prostitution is glamourised and women once denied the right to a sexual identity are now ostracised as prudish and old-fashioned if they don’t claim their “rights” to  flaunt their sexuality.

Natasha Walter discusses how this narrow range of acceptable behaviour for women to behave as “ladettes” is just as restrictive as in the past. Now young women are seen as outsiders if they choose to dress conservatively and not be promiscuous, the ” ideal” woman is that of a Barbie doll.  The pressure to conform is so intense, that worryingly even some of the top academic students in the country (gaining firsts at Cambridge) feel more defined by their looks than their achievements.

Walter also discusses the recent return to the ideology of biological determinism. Whilst in the 1970s and 1980s, gender “appropriate” behaviour was thought to be learnt by social conditioning, recent “research” seems to indicate that there are inherent differences between girls and boys. Boys are said to be more aggressive and naturally better at logic, mathematics and spatial awareness whilst girls are better at language, empathy, and building relationships . In a manner similar to Ben Goldacre in Bad Science , Walter reveals many of these modern “facts” to be based on poor research and that studies showing the opposite or no effect are ignored by the media.

Arguing, that these “facts” affect girls own views of their abilities and life choices and lead to women as being thought of as ideally suited to be caregivers rather than chief executives. This book is a passionate call to arms for feminists everywhere to renew their fight.

Other recent feminist reads:

When science goes bad

badscienceBen Goldacre is a man on a mission.  This doctor and journalist has made a career out of getting to the guts of sloppy, inaccurate, or misleading media reports on topics medical or scientific.  In his book Bad science, he attempts to give the reader the tools, language, and general wherewithal to be able to recognise that just because “sciencey” words are being thrown at us doesn’t mean that everything being said is credible. 

Admittedly, this might not sound like a fun read but that’s where you’d be wrong.  Goldacre’s conversational and often sarcastic style is very readable.  His enthusiasm for the topic is clear, as is his sense of irony (he once bought a membership to the American Association of Nutritional Consultants in the name of his dead cat to prove that the qualifications of a well-known television nutritionist weren’t worth the paper they were printed on.  Some time later she had to stop using the honorific “Dr” – you know, since she wasn’t one.)

As well as being pretty damn funny Goldacre does a great job of informing the reader.  I now know a lot more about how medical research is conducted and published, just how astonishing and important the placebo effect is, how misleading statistics can be, and what to look out for when reading or watching a story on “the latest medical breakthrough” (just because someone uses the phrase “research has shown…” doesn’t mean that the research has actually shown that) .  I”ll never hear or read the words “scientifically proven” again without immediately getting a “ping” on my BS radar.

In fact, I feel so empowered with this new knowledge I’d go as far to say that everyone should know this stuff, but I’ll concede that I have neither the power nor the persuasive skills to make the entire population of the country read a book so, assuming that many of you reading this post won’t get that far, I might just leave you with Goldacre’s oft-repeated catchphrase that can be applied to just about every soundbite ever uttered by a scientific “expert” – “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.”  Indeed.

If you’re after more revelatory stuff of a scientific nature then check out the following –