What Can be Learned from Fiction?
All right, I admit it, I am pretty much a one-dimensional reader. My fifteen years of college and university is primarily in the sciences, and this has shaped my reading. For most of my academic years I read only text books and scientific journal articles. But, now that I am more or less finished my academic journey, with a terminal degree in hand, I find myself wanting to patch the gaping hole in my literary experience.
Summer is a perfect time to grab a good book, settle under the shade of tree, and get lost in a story. This is the first summer I have not felt compelled to scan journal articles, or read more texts in the areas of quantum physics or health. Having said this, I still want to read a book and feel that I have learned something. I have an unsubstantiated belief that fiction only allows your mind to escape, whereas non-fiction is for fills your mind with useful facts and information. Recently, I was at a social gathering and the subject turned to books and great novels. After that dinner, I realized I had better broaden my reading experience or my only social contact will be with other wackadoos like me who might know the resonant frequency of a water molecule but could not tell you who wrote Harry Potter or The Great Gatsby.
A week ago, I ordered a book from Amazon that caught my eye called, “The Memory of Running” by Ron McLarty. I didn’t know much about the book other than it is this story of a 43 year old man who used to enjoy running and riding his bike but had long since forgotten the pleasure he used to feel from these activities. I began the book and I couldn’t stop reading it! Lo and behold it was fiction and I loved it! And I did learn from the book; I learned a lot about myself.
The book is about a guy name Smithy who is single, overweight, works on an assembly line for a toy manufacturing company, has no friends, and drinks too much. He is a self-proclaimed “loser” . One day, after both his parents die in a terrible car crash and finding out that his long-lost sister’s remains were discovered in California, he is overcome with sorrow so he mounts his old three-speed Raleigh and starts to ride. He begins his ride drunk and still wearing his suit from the funeral. His starting point is his hometown of East Providence, Rhode Island. While he doesn’t have a plan per se, he feels the need to keep riding.
Throughout the book he meets many interesting people who help him on his unidentified quest. At one point, he buys a map and decides to ride to Denver, Colorado. Upon finally arriving in Colorado, it is is clear that his journey must take him to Los Angeles to see the remains of his sister and say a final goodbye. It is an incredible story that is highly motivating. I was inspired by the spirit of the characters in the story that Smithy meets. I was reminded of the good nature of most humans and I was, of course, thinking about my own memories of running.
Upon finishing the book, I began to wonder when did it all change for me? I wondered what happened to my own love of running and riding my bike to destination-less points. Did the fifteen year academic journey beat not only my interest in reading fiction out of me, but did it also squelch my passion for biking and running? Did my life just get too busy? There are many excuses for why we no longer do the things we used to love. After reading “The Memory of Running” , I realized that if I don’t start my own quest back to running and biking, I could end up like Smithy! I hope this book is the start of my own quest.
At least at this point, I can already answer the question of the title of this blog, “What Can be Learned From Fiction?” Answer: Anything.