Leaving aside both politics and the news in general, if there was one thing that shocked me last year, it was how easy it was to get back into both reading and writing fiction again.
After having gone at least a year without properly reading a novel, I suddenly found myself reading a detective novel shortly after Christmas (and wondering why I ever stopped reading novels). Likewise, after drifting away from writing fiction for quite a while, I also managed to write 24 short stories last year (they can be read here and here ).
Yet, my experiences with only enjoying other types of entertainment media (DVDs, computer games etc..) during the time that I wasn’t reading or writing much fiction made the differences between these things stand out a lot more. Returning to prose fiction felt reassuringly familiar, even though it didn’t have the same “coolness” that other media often have. Still, this isn’t an entirely bad thing. Here are a few reasons why.
1) There’s less pressure: When I got back into reading fiction, I read a novel from 2012 by an author that I hadn’t really heard of before (“Brighton Belle” by Sara Sheridan, if anyone is curious). In fact, aside from a few famous authors, many of the novels that I’ve read and really loved are stories that probably aren’t that well-known when compared to, say, the latest films or games.
One of the cool things about fiction being less “cool” than other media is that there’s a lot less pressure to be ‘up to date’ with everything. Since books don’t usually tend to have saturation advertising coverage, there’s less of a feeling of falling behind current culture than there is if you haven’t seen the latest movies or if, like me, you prefer to play older and/or lower-budget computer games.
Plus, since there are so many authors in so many genres, there isn’t really one “mainstream” culture when it comes to fiction, in the way that there is with things like film, television and games. This again, means that there’s less pressure to keep “up to date”, because there are just too many writers, genres etc.. for anyone to keep up to date with. So, it’s a lot more relaxed as a consequence 🙂
Likewise, because the vast majority of authors aren’t celebrities, discovering a great author is all the more interesting. Yes, even with popular authors like Lee Child, there’s still an actual sense of discovery when you read one of their books for the first time. In other words, you have the satisfaction of finding something that you love, rather than just watching or playing something because it’s what everyone else is into at the moment.
2) There’s less greed: Keeping “up to date” with film, television and gaming seems like a fairly expensive hobby. Since these things cost millions to produce, there tends to be a lot of greed involved. A good example of this would be how modern large-budget games always require you to have the latest computer or the latest games console. Or how television seems to be moving more towards numerous online subscription services etc..
Although e-books are still a thing these days, there are no “system requirements” for traditional books. You can still read books from past decades and modern novels without having to “upgrade” anything. As long as you can read, then you can read anything.
If you want to check out something modern by your favourite author, then it’s only going to cost you the £7-10 it costs to buy a new paperback (or less if you buy second-hand, or wait for a special offer). You don’t have to spend hundreds on extra electronics, you don’t have to pay a subscription fee or even travel to a cinema. At the very most, you might splash out £20-30 on a hardback edition if you absolutely have to read the latest novel right now.
Because fiction is an old and an “uncool” medium, then there’s a lot less greed involved in it. Which is great for the audience 🙂
3) There’s more personality: One of the cool things about prose fiction is that there’s only one person involved in creating it. Although an editor might have made some improvements, when you read a novel, you’re reading the exclusive work of just one person. As such, novels tend to have a lot more ‘personality’ than other types of entertainment.
I can’t remember where I read this, but I remember reading that one reason why older computer games are more creative and interesting than their modern counterparts was because they had smaller teams of people working on them. The fewer people involved in a creative project, the more distinctive it tends to be. The fewer people there are, the more people feel free to experiment or to do something that might “rock the boat”.
And, as I said, most novels are only written by one author (and maybe an editor too). They may not have the polished flashiness of things that are designed by large teams to have mass appeal (eg: blockbuster movies etc..), but there’s a real sense of individuality and imagination in prose fiction that is often lacking in other media (except possibly [non-superhero] comics).
4) It’s wonderfully solitary: Unfortunately, we live in a very “social” age at the moment. Even modern video games are apparently no longer something that you play alone or with one or two friends. These days, the most popular games tend to be heavily focused on online multiplayer, at the expense of traditional single-player or local multiplayer gaming.
Well, one of the cool things about books which, paradoxically, is why they’re seen as “uncool” – is the fact that they are resolutely solitary things 🙂
Only one person can read a copy of a novel at any one time, and everyone who reads the same novel will probably imagine the characters, locations etc… in a slightly different and unique way. They’re a truly private and solitary form of entertainment 🙂
Best of all, in the good old days before the invention of *ugh* smartphones (and even for a fair while afterwards), reading a book in public was the easiest way to avoid unwanted conversations, eye contact or other social interactions. And, unlike a mobile phone, there’s no danger of a book ringing suddenly or running out of battery.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂