Why do we read fiction?

Fiction is a strange beast when you think about it. Made-up people in made-up worlds doing made-up things, and yet they have the power to make us laugh, cry, think, flinch, or just go to bed early to catch the next few chapters of their adventures. My own compulsion to read has puzzled me for a long time. I know I don’t feel right if I haven’t got a good book on the go. It doesn’t have to be fiction. I’m not exclusive (although, I admit, most of the time I am).

Why do we read fiction? Escapism, entertainment, sanctuary? If you are anything like me, you might feel there is something necessary about it, but perhaps like me also, you feel it instinctively though you’d be hard pushed to explain exactly what it is. Research on the psychology of reading fiction suggests that Continue reading “Why do we read fiction?”

Sugar and Tobacco

Individually we may not be able to atone for the past, but we must acknowledge it.

Fiction is often the gateway into fact for me. The books that stay with me longest are frequently those that have changed the way that I look at the world, taught me something fundamental or submerged me in an unfamiliar culture. Books like Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which centres on the Nigerian-Biafran war of 1967-1970, a war about which I was shamefully almost entirely ignorant until I read the book, or Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits which, even though the Latin American country in which it is set is unnamed, was my point of discovery of the history and politics of Chile and led me towards the more factual (but beautifully written) books about South American history and politics by the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy—one of my favourite books of all time—not only evoked the most profound memories of the short time that I worked in West Bengal Continue reading “Sugar and Tobacco”