You know when you learn something about someone that makes you feel less about them? Like you learn something about their past, their feelings about something important to you, the things they did growing up, or the things they do now and you’re like, “Ew. I do not want to get involved with that person!” But maybe if you did, you’d learn something about the world and about yourself; if you could separate the learning from the painful experience of dealing with someone else’s growing pains.
We all experience this with the people we meet, whether we want to or not, but we wouldn’t go looking for it and if we did, we’d be a mess. No one goes looking for pain…but many times painful experiences teach us the most about ourselves.
Reading fiction, novels, lets us do that without so much emotional personal pain. We experience other people’s lives and learn from them, but we don’t hurt from it as much because it’s not real, or if it is kind of real, at least it didn’t happen to us. It’s like looking at Medusa through a mirror. She won’t turn you to stone but she’s still hideous to see.
I’m reading a novel right now that makes me look at my life, my behavior and wonder if I have grown up at all the last 20 years. The characters in it closely resemble characters from my own life in my early twenties. I can identify with many of them and some of them I don’t understand at all, much like some of the people I worked with back then.
It’s fascinating learning from other people’s choices and points of view. Back then, when I was in college, would I have made similar choices if I were in that situation? Would I make different choices now? I believe I would but, to be honest, I’m not so sure. Sometimes I think I’m more mature, more open, more thoughtful, and then sometimes I catch myself falling into a tantrum fit over something instead of having a reasonable conversation. Some things about myself I want to change so badly and I realize there are some things I just need to accept.
But this isn’t about my behavior! It’s about novels and why we read them. Sure, they can be great entertainment, but they can be so much more if you let them, if you read them the right way, with your mind opened to learning from other people’s lives, fictional or not.
The best part about the character in a novel is that you get to hear their thought process, the reasons behind what they are doing. We rarely get that in real life. We only see our side of an argument, of a relationship, or an altercation in the workplace, on the road, etc. We only see our point of view. In a novel, we get to see all of it.
For me, reading novels reminds me that other people in this world are actually people with their own lives and agendas, their own traumatic childhood or disastrous family. The person at the stop sign next to me is not an NPC (non-player character) in my game of life. I had to go ask my son what that’s called, by the way. Do you know what I’m talking about? Those characters in the game that just fill space or give some background to the scene? They don’t really do anything. You can’t interact with them other than push them out of the way or run around them to kill time. The people in the grocery store aren’t like that. If you talk to them, they’ll remember it and go home thinking, “Wow. That person was so nice.” Or “What an ass!” They aren’t always there standing in line behind you or wandering the aisles looking for soup.
We get so wrapped up in our own lives that we start to think of the people around us as NPC’s. But I digress yet again.
Go read a book. Fiction is just as important as non-fiction! We can’t let ourselves get too wrapped up in it though, just like we can’t get too wrapped up in other people’s drama in real life. We learn what we can from story characters. Real people do need a bit more of our attention and love, but the bottom line is that their life is theirs, not ours. Besides, I have too much to read to take on your crazy life as well as my own!