Fiction, as with all forms of art, has the paradoxical ability to illustrate life far more accurately than fact. It is through fiction, and the exploration of the deepest recesses of our imagination that we are able to conceptualize our yearnings for facts and design experiments for truth.
Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. - Einstein
Fiction provides an arena to discuss the abstract. Concepts such as morality and social responsibility are better understood through the lens of fiction – it is a fool’s errand to try and label notions, born in subjectivity, as fact. Without fiction we wouldn’t have Great Expectations or To Kill a Mockingbird; both pieces of work are able to explore themes of culture, ethics, morals and emotions – the things that drive instances and events i.e. produce facts. In the worlds that authors create we are able to navigate through taboos such as murder and play out the consequences of it, given the tools to empathise with different situations and find common humanity in circumstance far removed from our norm. Fiction is our highest from of governance as it holds up a mirror to the world and asks us if we like what is reflected back.
If you wanted to learn about another culture, country or time then read their fiction. It will allow you to understand the psyche, the essence, the very soul of what you are trying to comprehend. You don’t need to revise battles, monarchs, scientific breakthroughs or legislative action, as these are all just byproducts of the narrative that fiction has woven into the fabric of their existence.
It is, therefore, no surprise that bookshops are split between fiction and non-fiction. NOT fact and non-fact. It is fiction that is the root, the dominant concept, and thus infers that there is fiction and there is the rest.
These thoughts only really came to me a couple of weeks ago as I was absent-mindedly looking through the shelves of a local bookshop. I suddenly ‘noticed’ how prominent fiction was and felt that I could learn about everything and anything in these pages. (Yes, I too am shocked it has taken me this long – considering I have been frequenting these places all of my adult life)
Of course it isn’t always our objective to try and understand the world every time that we pick up a book. We may just need a little escapism or to get lost in a different universe for a while. That, by the way, is the perfect reason to pick up a book. These books will still influence you though, they will change your view point and question your values. It’s unavoidable. We are taught that we are the sum of our experiences, and the words that you read are an enormous part of your experiences. A great book will change you and that is a good thing.
So next time you pick up a book make sure that you let it in. Fiction can teach us a thing or two!