Why Read Fiction?

Discussion in 'Odds & Ends' started by slewisoh, Aug 1, 2010.

  1. slewisoh

    slewisoh Semi-Pro

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    What is the purpose of reading fiction? I assume it must be for entertainment value, but I can't seem to find anything that interests me. I've tried classic and contemporary works in a variety of genres, including: mystery, romance, sci fi, fantasy, historical fiction, and poetry. I've explored plays, short stories, poetry, and novels. Very little peaks my interest.

    I just completed Jane Eyre, reading it only out of a sense of obligation. While I appreciated the social commentary, the underlying themes were comparable to what you might find on any afternoon soap opera. If I find those shows trivial, how can I find "classics" like Jane Eyre to be worthwhile?

    Much to my friends' amusement, I read to obtain information. I really enjoyed The Not So Big House and God & Your Stuff. I find the newspaper to be enthralling. :)

    So why do you read fiction?
     
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  2. decades

    decades Guest

    so we can get smart like you are. you use a lot of big words like enthralling....
     
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  3. Larrysümmers

    Larrysümmers Hall of Fame

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    i think it is for entertainment value. i am not a fan. ive read the series of unfortunate events and harry potter..and books we have to read in school. but id rather read a biography or something rather than fiction, but that is me
     
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  4. flyinghippos101

    flyinghippos101 Legend

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    To each his own I guess, but it's a shame you don't enjoy any fictional works, a bulk of my favourite novels are fiction. I read fiction it immerse myself in a imaginary character's universe.
     
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  5. norbac

    norbac Legend

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    I really enjoying reading in general, though most of the books I own are fiction. Just got like 6 novels I've yet to read. I personally really enjoy the descriptions, and envisioning the world the author has created.
     
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  6. justsomeguy

    justsomeguy Rookie

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    I've read many hundreds of fiction books. I used to get into an author and then read everything they'd written. James Clavell and John Steinbeck were a couple favorites.

    That was then.

    Now, I haven't read a fiction novel in over 10 years. I also haven't watched a TV show with any regularity in years. I am bored by all of it, and would rather spend my TV time watching sports or learning new things via the History or Science channels.

    Last movie I saw in the theaters was Episode 3. When was that movie out? I haven't rented a movie in 4 years, and pay for no movie channels with Directv.

    Fiction, whether books, TV, or movies just has no place in my life anymore. I love my life. I guess escapism is for those who don't.
     
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  7. aceX

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    So a professor of english literature doesn't love his/her life? What a joke.

    Good fiction is the presentation of ideas and philosophies through a medium that is easily accessible.
     
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  8. GetBetterer

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    Fiction tends to have symbols in their "imaginary" characters and events, which make it funn(y/ier) or sad(der).
     
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  9. ollinger

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    Fiction has adaptive value -- like other works of imagination, it helps promote the development of creativity, which has value for solving various sorts of problems one encounters.
     
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  10. justsomeguy

    justsomeguy Rookie

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    How should I know? I was talking about escapism, not what teachers do or do not enjoy. Do you think they love their lives just because they get to read fiction books? What a joke.
     
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  11. r2473

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    The question is similar to asking "Is a liberal arts degree useful"?

    Sadly (in my opinion), most people would say "No".

    My undergraduate degree was in philosophy. I read mostly classic literature these days, concentrating and taking seriously the many themes these works present and many questions these works ask. (Much of classic literature is simply philosophy "dramatized").

    I would say that these works add depth to one's character, but only if you read them with an understanding of the themes and you take the time to take them seriously.

    So to answer your question, if you read fiction strictly for entertainment value and you are not being satisfactorily entertained, then of course fiction has little value for you and you ought to look elsewhere for your entertainment.
     
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  12. sureshs

    sureshs Bionic Poster

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    I hardly read fiction any more, maybe only some science--oriented mysteries once in a while, and even then I sometimes cannot finish the book. Too many things are contrived and slapped together - the main theme + politics + social attitudes + stereotypes + relationship problems etc. In reality, life is boring and all things don't happen to all people. Moreover, what is the point of being part of someone else's imagination? Why do people read Stephen King? What he writes cannot happen according to known scientific laws. Why bother then? My favorite King episode is the real-life one in which he was unfortunately hit by a car near his home. While I do feel very sorry for him, I can't help thinking - nothing supernatural came and saved you, eh? And nothing supernatural hit you either - just a lousy driver.
     
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  13. max

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    You know, I chiefly read nonfiction. But fiction can be very good; try some Jane Austen (REALLY!), or if you want something less intellectual, go with John Le Carre or Graham Greene.
     
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  14. Mansewerz

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    I think an important discussion is escape v.s interpretation fiction as well.
     
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  15. albino smurf

    albino smurf Professional

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    Generally speaking, the point of fiction would be to set up a scenario to illustrate the author's point. I prefer non fiction as well, but there are some great fictional stories. Have you read War and Peace? Read some existentialist fiction. It is more thought provoking and less entertaining than the standard fare, exploring peoples motivations.
     
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  16. Polaris

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    I love reading fiction. In answer to why I read fiction, it really isn't a choice as much as a way of life, but if pressed the reasons would be:
    1. Out of love of language, thought and culture.
    2. Out of love for well-crafted characters.
    3. Out of the desire to be immersed in an unusual experience.
    4. To make myself a better person.

    However, I am not partial to fiction and am equally happy with non-fiction for nearly the same reasons. As a researcher by profession, my own output has been exclusively non-fictional :) .
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2010
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  17. Polaris

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    I submit that John Steinbeck contains less escapism and more "love of life" than any episode of the History ("war") Channel. But that is just my opinion.
     
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  18. JRstriker12

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    Just wondering - do you only watch documentaries or news? By the same point, you can say, what's the point of watching fiction?

    I'm not bashing your taste, but I kind of find it strange to only point at fictional books and leave out other sources of fiction.

    I know I can't convince you to like fiction, since tastes in books, TV shows, music, etc. tend to be very personal. But, IMHO - there are a lot of reasons to read fiction.

    -It can be entertaining, maybe even humorous.

    -Believe it or not, some writers of fiction are actually pretty good and produce some compelling stories or have a captivating style.

    -Fiction can be an interesting way to discuss or take a look at a certain topic in a way that's just not possible in a book of history or bio. If you're only looking at facts and you don't know - then you might have to use elements of fiction, supported by what you do know to take a best guess or fill in the gaps.

    -Fiction is a great away to discuss what isn't but what could be and take a look at how society might handle that invention or event. I like science fiction or alternative history stories in this regard.

    Anyway, if that's not your thing, than that's fine. I'd also say that reading a book out of "obligation" (fiction or non-fiction) rarely leads to enjoyable reading.
     
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  19. slewisoh

    slewisoh Semi-Pro

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    Perhaps I should rephrase the question, because I'm not trying to create a fiction vs. non-fiction conflict.

    What I really want to learn is how to enjoy fiction. For those who enjoy it, what elements are important to you? Who do you think does a good job developing characters or narrating an interesting story?

    The only fiction I've truly enjoyed is Flannery O'Conner's short stories because there are no wasted words. I find I have to read carefully because every phrase adds critical meaning to the story. With most fiction I find myself skimming pages to find important info. Kind of a blah blah blah blah IMPORTANT blah blah blah blah blah IMPORTANT approach to reading...very undisciplined, I know.

    I thoroughly enjoy essays, such as E.B. White's One Man's Meat or personal narratives that record someone's observations or viewpoint. A Sand County Almanac is a beautiful work that explores the author's relationship with the farmland he inhabits and all the living creatures he co-exists with.

    Real life is so interesting and complex...it baffles me that writers feel compelled to create a story. :) So who does it well? Recommendations?
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2010
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  20. albino smurf

    albino smurf Professional

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  21. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

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    Oh, Slewisoh. We are identical twins separated at birth.

    I am in a book club. Most of the people prefer fiction -- not crappy fiction. Good fiction. I do my best to read these books, but fiction just doesn't interest me "Ooooh, you made up a story. Bully for you."

    Non-fiction, though. It takes real talent to wring interest and drama from The Truth. Not every set of events has the ending you might like. The author has to do so much to write a good non-fiction book, because life doesn't always cooperate.

    My favorite non-fiction book is "Essex: Tale of the Sea," by Nathaniel Philbrick. It is the true story of the most well-known shipping disaster (before the sinking of the Titanic stole the spotlight).

    That said, there is one fiction book that comes to mind as having been Something Special: "The Life Of Pi." My daughter and I still debate what really happened in that book.

    In the meantime, I will check out the non-fiction you listed above.
     
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  22. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

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    I don't watch the news much because the news stink nowadays.

    Documentaries, though, are my favorites. I would prefer to see a documentary over a fiction piece any day.

    Favorite documentaries:

    "Murder on a Sunday Morning"

    "Food Inc."

    "Bowling for Columbine."

    "Super Size Me"

    "The Fog of War"
     
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  23. sureshs

    sureshs Bionic Poster

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    Me neither. It has just become the equivalent of blogging and sensationalism. Opinions passed off as news and no room for dignified discussions. Political discourse has become nothing but mud-slinging and acting.
     
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  24. WildVolley

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    Most people read fiction for entertainment. Fiction can also have educational value in terms of historical events, philosophy, religion, economics, politics, sociology, etc.

    I think it is a positive thing that you read at all. Coming from a family of readers and spending a little time in academia where everyone reads, I was shocked to find how little the majority of the world reads these days. In my experience, the majority of high school students are barely literate and many have never read a book written at the college level (Harry Potter doesn't count).

    A high school student was complaining to me that his grandmother had given him a Kindle because, as he says, who reads books these days! If it isn't on video he's not interested.
     
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  25. r2473

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    ^^ I am thankful that I am not being "educated" in this generation.
     
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  26. spacediver

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    i think reading fiction is good for the imagination, visual, emotional, and otherwise.

    Anyway, I challenge you to read some of Roald Dahl's short stories (the dark and twisted ones for adults) in your bed at night and tell me you don't appreciate the experience.
     
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  27. sureshs

    sureshs Bionic Poster

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    Reading is overrated, except for work stuff. The world today is fast-paced and action oriented. There are many opportunites to travel and experience stuff yourself, rather than reading about them. You can create your own virtual worlds with avatars instead of reading work by long-dead authors. You can also social-network in real-time with real people instead of spending time with fictional characters. You can also watch lots of TV and surf the net.
     
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  28. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

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    You're joking, right? I'm picking up some sarcasm, but I could be mistaken . . . .
     
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  29. ollinger

    ollinger Legend

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    What sureshs is trying to say is that you can spend your life re-inventing the wheel rather than benefit from the printed wisdom and experience of people who may be brighter and vastly more experience than yourself. Yes, you can social network!! Learn much from that? OK, watch TV and learn from living people like Snookie and The Situation instead of dead authors.
     
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  30. Polaris

    Polaris Hall of Fame

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    I disagree. A good writer does not feel compelled to create a story - that is only a proximate characterization of his mental process; Basically, he feels compelled to express himself. That form may, according to the writer's strengths, desires, etc., take the form of a short story or an essay or a novel or a poem.

    Real life is indeed interesting and complex, but there are always correspondences between the real life and the imagined one. Created stories have more to do with real life than you give them credit for.

    Gabriel García Márquez. There are writers and writers. Then, there is Gabo.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2010
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  31. PCXL-Fan

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    Its about escapism, stimulating the imagination, experiencing, understanding metaphor, imagining hypothetical situations. Just because something isn't real doesn't mean it can't be captivating and interesting. The modern world can be boring.

    When you read a scifi book for example or watch a scifi movie, you are putting yourself in the shoes of the main character, and experiencing this interesting other world full of adventure.
    Enjoying fiction is about letting yourself go, and getting involved in the emotional peaks and valleys of the story.

    Perhaps could I ask why you watch sports? What are the myriad of reasons you watch sports?
     
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  32. fed_the_savior

    fed_the_savior Banned

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    Well articulated answer. And funny avatar.
     
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  33. sureshs

    sureshs Bionic Poster

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    hehe yes some sarcasm there but most of it is not ....

    I personally don't have time to read due to work pressures. Even on vacation, I check my email every day. In such a state, I cannot bring myself to "curl up with a book" like I used to do in my childhood. Any spare time is devoted to tennis. So when can I read?
     
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  34. sureshs

    sureshs Bionic Poster

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    I didn't reveal the real reason I don't read fiction/non-fiction etc any more. It is because I want to discover the purpose of life and the Universe before my time is up. So I focus on scientific and philosophical/metaphysical/religious stuff only, hoping to see if anyone has the Answer. I am not interested in Stephen King's dark nights in isolated mansions in Maine. Useless stuff as far as I am concerned. I also don't want to know the "real" story behind some incident involving the US forces in some remote area of Afghanistan. I am interested in anything which will reveal to me the secret of existence.

    Like I saw a Science channel program recently about some cutting-edge physics theories and there was this guy who has speculated that we are just characters in an animation created by our super-intelligent descendants, and that, just like a computer animation breaks down into chunky pixels if you zoom down enough, the quantum nature of the world shows when the simulation breaks down. Then there is another guy who stimulates a particular part of the brain and reproduces religious experiences, and speculates that this technique will enable anyone to experience religious ecstasy.
     
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  35. r2473

    r2473 Legend

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    ^^Do you take drugs?
     
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  36. sureshs

    sureshs Bionic Poster

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    Yes, I have to. Doctor wants me to take even more. Also herbal supplements.
     
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  37. r2473

    r2473 Legend

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    Ah, herbal supplements :wink:
     
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  38. slewisoh

    slewisoh Semi-Pro

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    A few more non-fiction recommendations:

    The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher This is a collection of essays by Lewis Thomas, MD. I was especially impacted by "Death in the Open"

    The Courage of Turtles by Edward Hoagland. Another collection of essays by a nature writer.

    Beautiful Swimmers: Waterman, Crabs, and the Chesapeake Bay by William Warner. Succinct yet flowing prose about the Maryland blue crab and the watermen whose lives revolve around this creature.

    I guess that settles it. I prefer to read about the natural world...how it works, how we interact and impact it, how we are impacted by it. And as someone pointed out, at least I'm reading!

    I think the only way I will be able to enjoy fiction is by finding a good book club. Unfortunately, many of the groups I've encountered read gossipy crap. I would love to discuss War and Peace or One Hundred Years of Solitude with people who love fiction and who can teach me to properly read a work of fiction. They must be out there!
     
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  39. TheLoneWolf

    TheLoneWolf Banned

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    I'm the opposite. I hate newspapers. They are only good to beat dullards on the head with or to swat flies. Who gives a crap whether the Democrats are losing the House or Chelsea Clinton has to postpone her wedding due to catastrophic hemorroidal infarction? Reality, for the most part, is a bunch of BS. The period of time where interesting things were happening is well behind us. Paris Hilton's exploits have replaced Madame Curie's discoveries in the columns of newspapers, and the rest is a bunch of lies anyway.

    Good fiction is at least as real as historic literature. Winston Smith is just as real (if not more) to me as Napoleon Bonaparte.
     
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  40. JRstriker12

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    I as just thinking that some documentaties almost border on fiction. Not in the sense that they were made up, but that the director has a point to get across and they do their best to stitch together scenes and facts to create a narrative to fit their world view, and exclude other facts that don't fit that world view.

    I like Michael Moore's movies, but I would have to agree with people who would say that his movies aren't unbiased. He'll definitely work to manufacture a scene or a clip he can use to further his narrative.
     
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  41. max

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    If you're into nonfiction, two really great writers are Simon Schama (who does history) and John McPhee.

    It CAN be an art form.
     
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  42. sureshs

    sureshs Bionic Poster

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    The purpose of literature is to explore the human condition
     
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  43. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

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    Yes, much documentary film has a point of view. I mean, we all knew that the creator of "Supersize Me" wasn't going to make an infomercial for McDonalds.

    Still, which is more interesting? A fictional story about the Vietnam War, starring Matt Damon and Brad Pitt, or "Fog of War," about what really happened in the Vietnam War told by the guy who was there?
     
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  44. JRstriker12

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    Depends. If they guy spent the war digging latrines, the fictional story may actually be more interesting. ;)

    BTW - I'm not really arguing that one is better than the other. It think there is room in this world for non-fiction and fiction. Taste for one or the other is very personal.
     
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  45. Hapless

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    O'Connor's stories are amazing, but they're from a very specific genre (American Gothic). They're also flat-out hilarious, but in an intelligent-ironic way.

    There's no set "way" to enjoy fiction, because there are dozens of styles of fiction. Personally, I find it hard to finish some mainstream novels (Dan Brown), because the plots are so hackneyed. Likewise, Big-L literature (Oprah's books, Canadian authors) turns me off, because I just don't the point of reading something that wants to make me slash my wrists (from depression or boredom).

    However, authors like Clavell or Michener write phenomenal historical novels, which is a genre in its own right.

    Or if you want a laugh, "Lamb" by Christopher Moore or "No Way to Treat a First Lady" by Christopher Buckley (who wrote Thank You For Smoking) are both laugh-out-loud novles.

    Then again, if you only like Flannery O'Connor, you can simply look up Amazon "customers also bought XYZ" lists, and explore your local library from there.
     
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  46. slewisoh

    slewisoh Semi-Pro

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    From the group's recommendations, I've picked up the following titles:

    The Control of Nature by John McPhee
    Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christs's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore
    Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse

    In spite of life's obligations, I want to demonstrate to my family that reading is a worthwhile endeavor. We've set a goal in our family to read 20 minutes a day, 5 of 7 days. That may seem laughable, although for different reasons. For the book lovers, it will sound outrageous that one has to even set a goal to do something that is as natural as breathing. To the book shunners, it will be an "old school" approach to learning about the world. Why read when all you need is readily available via the internet?

    Since sharply limiting access to tv and the internet, the quality and quantity of time spent with my kids has increased dramatically. This morning my 14 year old sought me out to work on a crossword puzzle together. She had no idea such things were found in newspapers.

    The internet is a wonderful way to connect with people in the world, but the danger is in forgetting to personally connect with the people around you. In our home, reading is providing that bridge.
     
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  47. sureshs

    sureshs Bionic Poster

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    I also limit the time my son plays videogames and surfs the web, but the future is there, not in books. Videogame proficiency will soon be mandatory as job training goes virtual. Internet surfing and social networking will create the next successful entrepreneurs as they use their experience to discover new paradigms.
     
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  48. albino smurf

    albino smurf Professional

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    Fog of War was pretty damn fictional.
     
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  49. LuckyR

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    A couple of ideas:

    1- What form of entertainment (not just literature, movies/TV/theatre/net are OK too) do you find better than "trivial"?

    2- Are you part of the group who wish that formal education can ditch stuff like Art and Music so we can fit in more Readin', Ritin' and 'Rithmetic?

    3- What sort of things pique your interest?

    4- Are you religious?
     
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  50. FedererUberAlles

    FedererUberAlles Professional

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    Why would you let facts get in the way of a good story? I'm sure no one here has, at least once.
     
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