"When faith in fiction falters..."

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Siren
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Sat Feb 16, 2013 3:37 pm Post

Today's Guardian contains an article (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/feb/16/ian-mcewan-faith-fiction-falters) which struck a chord with me. It's about becoming jaded as a reader, losing the inclination or the ability to believe in fiction, and the process of becoming unjaded again. Ian McEwan writes about how a need for non-fiction sometimes takes over, and how a well-crafted phrase can be the spark that reignites interest in the fictional. I sympathise with the first half of the scenario, being in just such a slough of literary detachment myself at the moment, but I think it might take more than a well-crafted phrase to set the eagerness alight again.

In my case, with the exception of a few oft-read favourites which I still revisit occasionally, and some gifts that I have received, I have simply stopped reading any fiction that could broadly be classed as being in copyright. It wasn't a sudden switch, but a gradual, almost imperceptible waning which I didn't fully recognise until reading McEwan's article earlier today. It's as though I could no longer be bothered with reading about made-up things, as though real life is taking up so much space that there is no room for anything else. I'm reading more non-fiction (of the creative variety such as history or biography), as well as classics (mostly ones I haven't read before), but modern fiction is generally leaving me a bit cold. I didn't even glance at the most recent Booker or Orange prize lists, never mind buying them all on a whim and reading them back to back as I would normally be tempted to do. That's not to say that I haven't enjoyed the recently-written novels that I was given for Christmas or birthday -- I certainly did enjoy them, and I'm glad I read them, and I might even re-read some of them one day. But they didn't make me return of my own volition to the modern fiction congregation. As McEwan writes, "It's not a block, it's not really a long night so much as a matter of profound indifference".

My mother recently astounded me by wanting to discuss a novel she was reading, by a current author of some literary standing. I thought she had stopped reading novels years ago, having seen her read only history, biography, horticulture, travelogue, art and other non-fiction for the past couple of decades. She used to say that there was too much emotion in the real world without having to live through it in fiction as well. Sadly, I seem to have entered just such a phase of general apathy towards fiction, and not only have I not read this particular book but I can't pretend to have any interest at all in reading it in the future.

Odd, this ebb and flow of what I once thought would be a life-long addiction to the fabricated word/world. I wonder whether it is a natural cycle, just waiting for a change in season, or whether it is driven by external influence, awaiting what McEwan describes as a nudge back into faith. Do we all go through it, as readers or as writers?
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vic-k
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Sat Feb 16, 2013 8:28 pm Post

Astrid,
Sex, drink, plague, fire, music, marital conflict, the fall of kings, corruption and courage in public life, wars, navies, public executions, incarceration in the Tower: Samuel Pepys's life is full of irresistible material, and Claire Tomalin seizes it with both hands. She shapes it with a professional dexterity that would be the envy of Pepys the great administrator himself, into a fast, vivid, accessible story.
is the opening paragraph of Hermione Lee's review of Clair Tomlin's biography of Samuel Pepys.http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2002/oc ... biography1

When I read The Unequalled Self , a few years ago, it struck me then, as it does now, that non-fiction can be as gripping as well crafted fiction. As for historical non-fiction, the further back in time you travel, the more fascinating the topic becomes, especially in the hands of an expert, such as Tomlin. And anyway :wink: as we all know, truth is stranger than fiction! :lol:

Right now, I'm involved in a little research project, involving acquainting myself with Herman Melville's reading list of authors who had a profound effect on him and his writing...it's a treasure trove of fascinating individuals. But as you point out with your preferences, they're all out of copyright.

As a response to something a Scriv poster mentioned, I diverted to a re-acquaintance of the Beats brigade of: Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac, Cassidy. The diversion only served to reinforced my earlier impression of them, as a bunch of pretentious egoist. But that's my impression/opinion, and obviously not those held by many, many thousands of their readers/disciples.

Reading for pleasure, be it fiction or non, is escapism, isn't it...'let some other bugger do the driving for a bit'. Thats my view.

You Probably need a change of scenery, or period of literary detoxing.
I mentioned a book to you once, An Elegant Universe, try it, you may enjoy it.
Take care
Vic
As a professional, you, are your one and only asset. Without integrity you are worthless, but with it, you are priceless.