Friday, March 16, 2012

The Therapeutic Effect of Fiction

When families are new to our library we give a little tour. I say little because the library is small; I say tour, not because one could get lost in its labyrinthine sprawl as in one of those vast public library buildings, but because we want them to be able to locate the books they need. In the course of one such tour, I indicated where the fiction section was.

"Oh, the fake books," one bright young lad piped. I thought Emily was going to explode, but being the gracious young lady she is, she managed to control her reaction into a simple little rebuttal: "Oh, fiction is full of real things."

Have you met, as I have, readers that boast, "Oh, I never read fiction." To me, that's like saying, "Oh, I never eat with a fork."

Is it because it's not serious enough? I know I'm not the only one who becomes tense with anxiety or cries while reading. I also know I'm not the only one who has had my outlook on life altered or my prejudices and presuppositions shaken by reading fiction. It is definitely not because I do not respect factual or scientific information. Is it not possible that a book's ability to change your thinking might just be because there is so much truth and light that penetrates your otherwise indifferent or closed mind?

Actually, I think truth is best revealed in unsuspected ways, in perspectives of life that we would not otherwise consider, in unusual, even imaginary, places -- the kind encountered in fiction.

These ideas of mine are not my own. Jesus himself, the truth, used them: "without a parable He did not speak to them" (Mark 4:34) - little make-believe stories that pack a lot of truth that hits you between the eyes.

Here's an example. In the last two years, our family has lost three precious young friends. These tragedies shook the old and young members of a family. Our faith, our work, our friends help us cope. So do our stories.

Reading The Railway Children aloud to my eight-year-old recently I ran across a couple such instances:
"There's no end to this tunnel," said Phyllis - and indeed it did seem very, very long.
"Stick to it," said Peter; "everything has an end, and you get to it if you only keep all on."
This is quite true, if you come to think of it, and a useful thing to remember in seasons of trouble--such as measles, arithmetic, impositions, and those times when you are in disgrace and feel as though no one would ever love you again, and you could never - never again - love anybody.
Or on another occasion to his author mother:
"Wouldn't you like to be writing the book with us all in it, Mother, and make Daddy come home soon?"
The mother responds:
"Don't you think it's rather nice to think that we're in a book that God's writing? If I were writing the book, I might make mistakes. But God knows how to make the story end just right -- in the way that's best for us."
(And lest you think this young literature a little sappy):
Do you really believe that, Mother?" Peter asked quietly.
"Yes," she said, "I do believe it -- almost always -- except when I'm so sad that I can't believe anything. But even when I can't believe it, I know it's true -- and I try to believe..."
Maybe those nonfiction readers are just a little nervous about real life.

For the joy of reading,



  1. Just wanted to leave a quick note and let you know how much you have inspired me. We live in a small community and a couple of years ago had the real possibility of our local library closing due to lack of funds. We love books as any self respecting homeschool family would and have a good collection started. I now see the need to not sell any of my books and start a small library in my home to one day try and do the same as you for local homeschool families.
    Thanks and Blessings

  2. Thanks so much Diane! It is so encouraging for us to hear other people catching the vision of sharing their books with other homeschooling families. If you haven't already, you may be interested in joining the yahoo list (linked on the bottom of the Library page)for people interested in building home school libraries! We're even planning a conference for this summer all about starting and maintaining a homeschool library.
    For the joy of reading,
    Emily and Liz