The magic is still there

Why do I read the written word? 

If it is a fact - like a sign, a label or a report designed to impart knowledge - clearly it's because we feel a need to be informed. (Whether or not we really do need to know is immaterial. Do I really need to know about the sexual adventures of a Michael Douglas or the behaviour of a colony of wood ants or the cost in human lives of a mudslide in South China? Those things as opposed to, say, the price of a pint down the local? I don't think so.)

But what if the written word is non-factual; a fiction, a story, the product of a single human imagination? Why read that? As a writer and publisher of fiction I, I suppose like all other writers over the ages have been pondering the Big Question: why would a person unknown decide to give my fiction a little of their money and, of far greater import, many hours of their precious time?   

I can only relate to my own motivation. Reading a work of fiction is for me a journey into places unknown inside the minds, the hearts and the souls of its characters. I want to inhabit another human being or beings. I want to feel as that other person feels, to be and to live as that other person actually is and lives. Furthermore I can dip into that other life, that other world, and exit it at will. In so doing, if the writing is good and true enough I can feel the hurt, the joy, the sorrow, the adventure, the sex, etcetera - etcetera without the personal danger of reality. Without any personal danger in fact other than the danger, should it be a danger, of a change in personal outlook, even behaviour. 

Most of us will recognise 'the book that changed our lives'. Apart from religious tracts, almost certainly the book will be fiction. For me it was Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls. I first read it at the age of twenty. How well I recall sitting up in our bed-sitter alongside my new wife reading this, the latest of our library borrowings. The tone and tenor of the story and the powerful way in which it was written, and principal character Robert Jordan and especially the final pages - all this has stayed with me throughout my life. I cannot exaggerate its importance to me or its influence on me. As a boy I had lived through World War Two in London but I can say from this distance that Hemingway's novel - and the others of his that I subequently read - had by far the greater personal impact. 

I am re-reading it now on my Kindle. The magic is still there.

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