Why I Stopped Reading Fiction
Iím 53, but I still think of myself as the person I was from about 18 to 35, the one who found an author he liked and kept reading them: Salinger to Irving to Vonnegut to Roth to Doctorow. Baldwin to Updike to Vidal to Mailer to Kundera. The best of Hemingway and Faulkner and Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. I liked being that person but I think I stopped being that person around 1998. Maybe reviewing crap books for The Seattle Times killed some spark in me. Or maybe working at Microsoft in its games division did.
But I think the biggest factor is that I went online.
Reading, I think, made me feel less lonely. It gave me a connection to somebodyóthe authoróand now online does that. Social media does that. Or tries to do it. But really it does it poorly. Itís salt water for a thirsty man. Even when it works, itís a simulacrum of a connection. Itís connection in everything but the connecting.
So I should go back to fiction, I should go back to literature, to assuage this feeling; to drink real water after the salt variety. But I donít. And I think I donít because reading literature, in some way, actually makes me feel more lonely now. Because I know so few people do it.
But that doesn't explain why I read non-fiction, since, apparently, even fewer people do†that. Maybe because non-fiction, on almost any topic, at least connects you to an ongoing conversation on that topic. Read “Dark Money” by Jane Mayer and you can talk about the Koch brothers, or the funding of think tanks, or the rightward drift of our country since the mid-1970s. A fictional book simply connects you back to that book. It should, of course, connect you to a larger discussion about aesthetics, but that conversation seems reserved for academics. And it helps if you have a book group, but ... sometimes those make me feel a little lonely too.