Friday, June 14, 2013

Why I don't read novels

I saw somewhere on the internet yesterday a list of reasons why reading is good for us. We love our lists! One of the reasons reading novels is beneficial is that it increases empathy, or so the list said.

When I try to read novels, what I ordinarily decide is that the author is working through something, a personal issue. In other words, it's hard to get involved because it feels like none of my business. I get that the author needed to write the book, but do I need to read it? I don't feel like I learn anything from novels. I would much rather read history or science books.

Less and less as I grow older am I interested in the psychology of people. I love to hear their stories, though not so I will understand them.

What I like about people is the energy around them, the patterns of their stories (as opposed to the content). I like seeing how people navigate their way through this crazy experience of life. Some people are incredibly original in approach. Others follow a script that seems to have been written several generations ago. I have no opinion about how life is lived as long as no animals are harmed in the process. Should say unduly harmed. Life is harmful, there are consequences to every twist and turn. The food chain is a bitch in terms of perceived harm. But we perhaps shouldn't go out of our way to harm others, yes? It's good to try not to.

I like the patterns, the energy, the way that energy feels when my energy interacts with it. Why people do what they do is not as interesting. I figure there's something lovely, also something really gnarly, about everyone. Do I need the details? I really don't. Does that mean I have no capacity for empathy? It could. I'm kind in general and tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. Isn't that good enough?

Hmmm. Maybe I do need to work on empathy. Do I? If so, must that learning come from novels? Hope not!


ellen abbott said...

I don't know if reading novels increases empathy. I read a lot, all fiction. I try to be kind and compassionate but empathy, I think, springs from shared experiences. Oh, you are cold and hungry and the pain I feel inside for you is because I was cold and hungry and I know how that feels, here's a coat and opposed to...oh you are cold and hungry, here's a coat and food. But I don't really feel your pain. Is one act more kind than the other? I think not.

I read for entertainment which is why I read non-fiction. I go to movies for entertainment and so the movies I pick are not historical unless it's historical fiction. I don't feel like fiction writers are trying to work out any issues, I think they just have a story to tell, like any storyteller, only they write it down instead of recite it.

Beautiful picture of the hydrangea.

Kerry said...

The hydrangeas, oh my!!

I think it's possible to read all of the novels ever written and not develop an ounce of empathy in the real world.

I read fiction like crazy, and only pick up non-fiction once in awhile. Yet almost all of the movies I've watched in the past 6 months have been documentaries. I don't know what the deal is.

The Bug said...

Total fiction for me - I VERY rarely read nonfiction. I like to escape into a story - and if I learn something then that's a nice by product.

I was reading a book last month that made me think of you. One of the main characters was a massage therapist (among many other jobs she did). She had other characteristics that made me think, "Reya!" I just put your face in my head every time she showed up in the book :)

Susan Carpenter Sims said...

I had an epiphany a while back that empathy (or really, compassion) and kindness do not necessarily go together, and that many people tend to be either one or the other in terms of their actual actions. I had noticed that a few of the kind people I know, people who are very generous and thoughtful, are also not very compassionate in general. I tend to be the opposite; I'm very compassionate, but not always attuned to a high level of kindness in the sense of thoughtful gestures, going out of my way to be helpful, that sort of thing.

Reya Mellicker said...

I agree Ellen, as long as the coat and food is passed along, that's what matters.

Clearly I don't "get" novels. I really don't. Interesting to think about.

MJM said...

I read about two or three novels a week. Always have, since I learned how, although the length and depth have progressed. I've never thought about why I do it, or what place it holds in my life. Interesting to think about!

Reya Mellicker said...

MJM - if you come up with language to describe what novels do for you, I would love to hear it.

Susan - well - interesting. Really interesting.

Steve Reed said...

I love novels, as you know. But I have some friends who agree with you -- they'd much rather read nonfiction. I think they see novels as "made up" and hence a waste of time. Personally, I try to read everything.

What's interesting to me is that you see the novel as a "working-through" process for the writer. It sounds like you never quite get lost in the story -- that you're always conscious of the "man behind the curtain." I think a novel is probably most effective when you lose sight of the author entirely and pay attention to the story they're telling. That doesn't mean you aren't aware of their message or symbolism or the other literary devices they may employ; you're just involved. If you're not involved, I can see why fiction isn't working for you.

Although I love fiction books, I never read short stories. In the New Yorker, for example, I always skip the fiction. I don't know why that is!

Steve Reed said...

Obviously, when I say "man behind the curtain," I don't mean literally the MAN. I mean it in a gender-neutral sense. :)

Reya Mellicker said...

I knew what you meant, Steve -and yes! I don't get lost in the story. Very cool insight!

Short stories might not have enough oomph to get you involved.

I always admire the way you can even read books you hate. You are mighty!!

Reya Mellicker said...

The last fiction I read carefully were the Harry Potter books. I kept thinking, omg has R.K. been depressed in her life! Terrible childhood, too.

Maybe I'm too empathic to read novels.