The Work of Fiction

Sales of print books, like newspapers, have been on a steady decline, but unlike news, books aren't making up for it in the digital world. Americans are reading less in general, and they're reading far less fiction. While the numbers vary by demographic, with women and young people consuming slightly more fiction than non-fiction, on a whole we've lost our taste for stories, or at least our appetite.

News comes in short articles, or sound bites. People read headlines without reading the article, and the guise of being well-informed has become the proxy for actually being well informed, but what is the value of being well informed without the ability to empathize with the people affected by the news. This isn't a post about social media, but bare with me on this one point... social media isn't social at all, it's egocentric. Social media is about you, it's about posting a picture or a quip and refreshing your browser to see how many "likes" you accumulate or further, it's about expanding your social circle in the narrowest way, only to reinforce what you already think about the world. It's a quantity vs. quality approach. Fiction is the opposite, it's about empathy, it's about understanding the world from the narrator/protagonist's point of view and it serves a purpose much more substantial than escapism.

The average American spends slightly over 5 hours reading (anything) per week, and according to a 2013 report by eMarketer we spend 23 hours per week using social media, emailing and texting. “Adults have been presented with a tidal wave of easily accessible and affordable entertainment, such as online social gaming, music discovery via YouTube and Vevo, and TV and movie sites like Hulu and Netflix,” says Jim Azevedo, of We're getting our fiction elsewhere, but unlike reading, TV, movies, and digital media are meant to be consumed in short bursts and don't give the viewer time to digest and contemplate the way a novel does. It requires us to see auxiliary characters as one dimensional in order to keep up with the story line; there is a reason that people often say "the movie wasn't as good as the book", it's like seeing a xerox copy of an artistic masterpiece, you get the point, but the depth and significance is lost. And the dept and significance are important.

A good novel can transport you, it triggers the use of your imagination and makes you feel an array of emotions, not just shock, anger or disgust, the way digital media is designed to do. It can help you understand the world from the point of view of other people, in an organic way; which can only be helpful in a country as divided as America is right now. 

While non-fiction serves a purpose, fiction shouldn't be regarded as fanciful simply because it's purpose is more nuanced. If you're a reader let me know, what's the last good book you read? 

If you'd like to keep up with what I'm reading find me on Goodreads here: