Reading Fiction

I had never before been a great fan of fiction, always preferring the more practical and “useful” non-fiction. For years I had sworn off taking fiction seriously, thinking they did nothing for a person’s development, and were simply a source of entertainment.

Then one day a girl recorded an entry on her blog, telling her readers how she never knew a 19-year-old Singaporean could write like that, referring to a short article I wrote on expectations.

The months after I discovered that link (her blog has since gone private), I visited her blog almost every day, wondering if perhaps if I might have a chance to meet the girl behind those words. Alas, meeting her I did not.

But those months of constant visiting of her blog opened my eyes to how fiction can teach us about the human condition. She was at that point of time reading a book called The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles. Almost two or three times every week, she would publish a page full of passages from that book.

The passages she picked were simply superb, the kind that would make you go, “hmm… I never thought of it that way. But come to think of it, yes, that makes sense!”

I enjoyed the passages so much I went to buy the book. Although disappointed that the book as a whole was less than the sum of its parts, I decided to keep on exploring other fiction genres, notably those that dealt with philosophy (especially existentialism) and stories revolving around survival in the post-war industrial age.

Fiction, far from being useless, allows us to experience life we cannot or may not experience otherwise.

Below are a couple of my favourite quotes from fiction books I have read recently, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Quotations for the Week

Richard Yates

From Revolutionary Road.

“I’m afraid I’m booked solid through the end of the month,” says the executive, voluptuously nestling the phone at his cheek as he thumbs the leaves of his appointment calendar, and his mouth and eyes at that moment betray a sense of deep security. The crisp, plentiful, day-sized pages before him prove that nothing unforeseen, no calamity of chance or fate can overtake him between now and the end of the month. Ruin and pestilence have been held at bay, and death itself will have to wait; he is booked solid.

Ernest Hemingway

From The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.

His wife had been through with him before but it never lasted. He was very wealthy, and would be much wealthier, and he knew she would not leave him ever now. That was one of the few things he really knew. He knew about that, about motor cycles — that was earliest — about motor cars, about duck-shooting, about fishing, trout, salmon and big sea, about sex in books, many books, to many books, about all court games, about dogs, not much about horses, about hanging on to his money, about most of the other things his world dealt in, and about his wife not leaving him. His wife had been a great beauty and was still a great beauty in Africa, but she was not a great enough beauty any more at home to be able to leave him and better herself and she knew it and he knew it. She had missed the chance to leave him and he knew it. If he had been better with women she would probably have started to worry about his getting another new, beautiful wife; but she knew too much about him to worry about him either.

Existential Fiction

I leave you now with an author whom I think has had a great influence on many writers, Franz Kafka. If you have never heard of him, may I beseech you to read more about him at this Wikipedia entry of Franz Kafka. The quote below is from his “shorter stories”, which are really snippets of stories, which he has sometimes used in his longer short stories, but are in themselves able to hold their own weight.

Franz Kafka

From The Complete Short Stories.

When you go walking by night up a street and a man, visible a long way off — for the street mounts uphill and there is a full moon — comes running toward you, well, you don’t catch hold of him, not even if he is a feeble and ragged creature, not even if someone chases yelling at his heels, but you let him run on.

For it is night, and you can’t help it if the street goes uphill before you in the moonlight, and besides, those two have maybe started that chase to amuse themselves, or perhaps they are both chasing a third, perhaps the first is an innocent man and the second wants to murder him and you could become an accessory, perhaps they don’t know anything about each other and are merely running separately home to bed, perhaps they are night birds, perhaps the first man is armed.

And anyhow, haven’t you a right to be tired, haven’t you been drinking a lot of wine? You’re thankful that the second man is now long out of sight.

3 thoughts on “Reading Fiction

  1. Hey! I’m that girl! :) I definitely remember writing that about you. I actually stopped writing (and reading blogs) for a bit, but I have since restarted somewhere else. Stumbled upon your blog (again!) by chance, and yes, The French Lieutenant’s Woman was not the best book on the whole, despite the snippets of genius. ;)

  2. Hey! I’m that girl! :) I definitely remember writing that about you. I actually stopped writing (and reading blogs) for a bit, but I have since restarted somewhere else. Stumbled upon your blog (again!) by chance, and yes, The French Lieutenant’s Woman was not the best book on the whole, despite the snippets of genius. ;)

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