I haven’t read a lot of fiction (of my choosing) since the beginning of the year, so one recent evening was rare. I sat down on the couch and read for almost an hour. I allowed time to pass unnoticed as I waded in, giving lamplight to the words of Dan Barden’s first novel, “John Wayne”. I like to read one novel with at least one other lying close by. There is something comforting – it is a sort of company to have more than one book gathered close about you. It is like a litter of puppies. One is nice, more than one is simply a delight. So while I was reading Barden I had a collection of short stories by Chris Offutt lying in my lap.
So why was this reading such an oasis? I have heard one theory which I think is true.
We skim though life, mostly reading only closely packed snippets and bits. The constant barrage of information requires that we become proficient at making decisions and forming opinions on barely enough information to coat the head of a pin.
What novels do is allow us to dive deep. They are the only printed medium available to us where we can allow ourselves to get lost. Their value cannot be overstated. They are utterly unique. They are all that is left of the great foundational oral traditions on which our cultures were formed. They are the only medium keeping interactive story-telling alive in our mainstream culture. What will come of those of us who never read for more than 2 minutes at a time? Whatever the fate, I think I was starting to feel it until one recent evening. dm