THE quickest fix for reading on demand is comfort reading.
I take a cue from Rappaccini’s daughter and find a cure in the poison itself. Thank you, Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Fiction is comfort reading, the flip side of a pedant’s purposive reading, noble in intention but futile in its attempt to edify the plebeian creature who sneezes in the company of dissertations and never outgrows a liking for make-belief, illustrated, if you please.
Queuing recently at the college’s photocopying service, I waited for the ring-bound copies of my research drafts when a dignified gentleman placed on the counter an old portfolio with an extremely respectful air. He then conducted a dispassionate but probing interrogation of the machine operator on how “the books” would be treated in the process of coming up with the “facsimiles” preserving the “original works of art.”
Before he could wind up his cross-examination, the operator walked off in a huff. The gentleman turned to me, pursuing his suit that the covers of the copies must even then, “at least,” be reproduced as close to the original “in tooled leather with gilt letters.”
Curious to see the titles of “the books,” I glanced at his briefcase, which he held protectively, with both palms spread downward, as if the creatures it withheld were delicate and skittish at the least sign of the uncultured.
The stories are not inside, he said, intercepting my look. The truly worthwhile ones are all in the head, he said to no one, apparently disappointed in a world lacking imagination. When the operator gave my ring-bound manuscripts, spawns of sleep-deprived night and dawns, I did not immediately recognize these impostors.
Why do we care for fiction, for creatures who, no matter how seemingly real, can never be true?
“The mirror of fantasy” allows us a glimpse of what “fall(s) through the cracks,” wrote Neil Gaiman. Fiction is a mirror that shows us sometimes the “things we have seen so many times that we never see them at all, for the first time.”
Some journalists, after a habit of writing based on information that has carefully been verified with multiple sources, find they are immobilized by an appeal to write using the “imaginary.”
While I listened to the gentleman brood over the reproduction of “the books,” of whose existence he was the only one privy to, I was skeptical about his sanity.
Yet, for true believers, faith is not in the proof. It is in the narrator’s insistence to bring forth a story.