As anyone who has been reading this for any length of time has probably figured that out by now; I like words a lot. I like books too. I know this, because I have just moved house and carried what feels like half a library up two flights of stairs. I'm definitely with Roald Dahl when he writes:
"so please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
go throw your TV set away,
and in its place you can install,
a lovely bookcase on the wall."
Given a choice, the bookshelf wins hands down, every time... Actually, make that bookshelves: it's definitely plural!
Over the last few months I have had the luxury of being able to spend a fair amount of time curled up with a selection of good books. I have read some excellent, heartening, terrifying non-fiction. But mostly I have read stories. I have read stories set in the past and the present. I have read stories from close to home and far away.
I have taken great pleasure in reading lots of stories. Many of the best books I have read, I can't exactly describe as enjoyable. They are books that have made me smile, certainly, but also reduced me to tears. They are books where I have come to care deeply, passionately about individuals dreamt up in the imagination of another.
But maybe this is not pure escapism into an imaginary world of fairy dust. For me the great power wielded by these authors of fantastic fiction, is not that they can make me care about what does not exist; but that they are able to draw me more deeply into a world that does exist. While their characters, scenarios and events may be fictional creations, they are also able to speak of a deep reality. The reality of humanity, the reality of life.
Like many people, I am always a little suspicious of statistics, and not just because I prefer words to numbers. Despite our post-enlightenment obsession with facts, we are deeply suspicious of those same facts which we tirelessly seek. But we do want to know. Really know.
I wonder whether, in the same way that facts can be used to hide a deeper fiction; perhaps it is through fiction that we are able to discover deeper truth. Sometimes, perhaps, this uncomfortable fiction may be more real than we want to imagine. Sometimes perhaps, we leave our fiction uplifted by the very real enduring tenacity of the human spirit.
This is already long enough, but I feel I can't really end without at least a couple of recommendations, so go and get hold of a copy of Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie and Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abalhawa, . Read them, smile at them, cry over them, care about them. Then remember to care about the real life characters too.