‘I don’t read novels,’ a serious man once said to me, ‘because they are not true.’ The man was a prison officer, a good and upright person, and his words seemed to carry the message that real life was so serious and he had to deal with it every day, that the idea of reading fiction seemed frivolous. His words left me puzzled and they have stayed with me over the years.
Today I am going to Waterstones to buy two novels. I like to read history and I have enjoyed reading crime thrillers, but today I am going to go and pick up a story that seems worth reading. Novels may not be true, as my friend once said, but they carry truth within them. The things we know about life, the things we see and hear, the things we come to understand and have feelings for, these are the truths of life that good writers weave into their stories.
In bookshops and in libraries you can find the section marked ’Fiction’, and that can give the impression that you are looking at things that are not true, not fact, and our world and our lives have become brutalised by facts. But this section of the library could just as easily carry the caption ‘Story’ and that would better convey the importance of these books. Here, in story form, you will find truths about life.
It is good and healthy for us all to be involved in our world. In my old age it would be easy to retreat from life and leave it to others, but in whatever way suits us, we do well to stay involved in this world. My involvement involves thinking and writing and reading; that is, learning and sharing what I learn.
Today I shall go and find two books by Claire Keegan – Foster, which has been made into a film called An Cailin Ciuin, and Small Things Like These. I shall report later how I found them.
16 February 2023