Read More Fiction
Perhaps you saw this lovely short piece from Atlantic magazine editor, Adrienne LaFrance, about that magazine’s plan to run more works of fiction.
She calls reading quality fiction a modest act of rebellion in our information burdened lives. Here’s LaFrance:
“Contemplative reading might be viewed as a minor act of rebellion in the internet age. At a time when every available surface is saturated in information, it sometimes seems as though facts are absorbed osmotically, even accidentally, just by moving through space and time. And although the internet is not the perfect opposite of the novel, as some people have argued, it makes fairly efficient work of splintering attention and devouring time. Literary reading—of fiction and of poetry, the kind of reading that commands moral and emotional reflection—is far too easily set aside.”
I’ve often thought of reading as a form of prayer, a practice that both creates and nurtures an interior life. But LaFrance is right. Just as such writing has been pushed from the pages of many magazines, it is often pushed from our lives in place of scanning the internet.
LaFrance draws on a metaphor used by the Canadian writer, and bookstore owner, Alice Munro, to describe the experience and intent of reading fiction. It creates a world.
“In addition to the several short stories that appear in the print magazine each year, we’ve decided to create a new destination for those who seek the intellectual nourishment that fiction provides. Alice Munro, famous for her nonlinear approach to storytelling, used a metaphor I’d like to borrow: A story is not a path you traverse, but a large house to explore. After you inhabit a story for a while, and you peer through the windows of that house, as Munro put it, the world outside looks different. This is a way of seeing that we strive to cultivate through the regular publication of original fiction.”
To that I would add that this is the intention of reading/ hearing Scripture as well. The Bible creates a world, an imaginative world in which much of what we experience as reality is called into question, even reversed. The last shall be first. Enemies become friends. The most unlikely people play decisive roles. Through worship shaped by the biblical stories we enter a different world and gain a lens through which to view all of life.
Toward the end of this piece mention is made of the eminent Atlantic editor, C. Michael Curtis. His acceptance of a short story by the interviewee, writer Lauren Groff, opened a whole new world for her. My own experience with Curtis was, alas, different.
I once got a fairly lengthy letter of rejection from Curtis for a piece I had submitted to the Atlantic. That article, submitted long ago, was about loss of influence on the part of mainline or liberal Protestantism, what had led to it and why it mattered to the culture at large. As I recall Curtis said something on the order of “this story has already been told” or maybe he said there wasn’t enough interest in the topic to justify publication. I’m glad it went better for Groff.
Lately, much of my reading has been non-fiction, as that is the general fare of my book group. I do read quite a few mysteries, as I can do that while plodding along on equipment at the gym. Two authors in that genre who are exceptional, imho, are Fred Vargas (a French woman), and Allen Furst, who at one time lived in Seattle and wrote for The Weekly. I am a fan too of Alice Tyler, and enjoyed her recent novel Clock Dance. What fiction are you reading? What do you recommend?