Why do we write literature? Why do we read it? I think the simple, understated answer is to feel connected. I think what gives literature (the fictions we write, the stories we tell and read) its sense of permanence in a world that knows no other force but constant change is the inherent need we have to feel and be connected with one another.
Reading fiction helps us escape our daily lives and the reality we often feel we have no power to change. Reading wards off the loneliness we feel, whether periodically or daily, in our lives. Reading and writing fiction opens the door not just to the imagination but also to connecting with other humans, living and dead, as well as fictional characters.
I read because I am always searching for wisdom, for revelations of truths I feel but cannot find the words for. Finding those words in the stories of others connects me to them, to those writers and their characters, letting me know there are others out there who think and feel just as I do. I also read to escape, to go into that other world that the author has envisioned in their imagination, and to come in contact not just with the characters they’ve created who seem so real and natural and, thus, so human, but to connect with those characters, to see if and how I can and do relate to them and their experiences. And by reading I ultimately become a stronger writer, filled with new ideas, new ways of perceiving the world which I can then utilize in my own writing, in the way I tell my own stories.
Reading also enables us to connect with the writer behind the narrative, person to person, allowing us to discover what’s on their minds, what they’re interested in, and even recognizing that they are very human, just like the rest of us; they too dream, have needs and desires, and, in many ways, their stories often convey those dreams, needs, and desires in the various characters they create and the narratives they weave around them.
So, what’s in a story? I think the answer is connection: watching another human being unfold not just another story, but their story (whether fictionalized or not), how they perceive the world and connect with it and with others. The stories we tell express our humanity, our needs and desires, the greatest and deepest of which is connecting, finding a oneness, with others, and that intimate connection emerges and strengthens through recognizing our shared humanity in those needs and desires. So, tell me, what’s your story?