Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"In the midst of life..."

Charlie Harris from Miranda James' New York Times bestselling "Cat in the Stacks" series

A friend asked me not too long ago why I read so many mystery novels. She was really puzzled by my fascination with death, as she called it. And she opined that surely after having been involved in several murders the last thing I'd want to do would be to read about more murders.

I asked her what she liked to read, and her answer was non-fiction. She had no time for fiction, because it wasn't real. I didn't offer her my first reaction on hearing this -- that I have little patience with such an attitude. Moreover, that I think people who don't enjoy fiction are rather lacking in imagination.

Instead I told her that for me, every novel is a journey, and I love finding out where it's going to take me. As a child I discovered Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and many other teenage detectives. They had adventures, the like of which a small-town Mississippi boy could never hope to have. Adult fiction took me even more interesting places -- into the past, the future, into rich realms of imagination. Why wouldn't you want to read fiction with rewards like that? (That was me trying to put my earlier comment in more tactful terms.)

But why murders? she persisted.

I fell back on a quotation from the Book of Common Prayer, usually quoted in burial services: "In the midst of life we are in death. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust." Mysteries -- at least the kind I prefer -- attempt to make sense of death. Understanding how and why someone died helps me understand how we live -- the choices we make that propel us down a particular path, whether we be murderer or victim. In the end justice -- of a sort -- is served, and the world can move on.

I don't know whether that convinced her, but it's what I think. What do you think?

 

9 comments:

  1. I think that by reading fiction, we learn to see the world through other folks' eyes. That has to be good.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree, Naomi. It also introduces us to new situations, new locations and new friends!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Excellent points. Never seeing the world through another's eyes is sad.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Fiction allows us to escape our own bodies, our own selves, our own lives, and for one, brief, shining moment become someone else. Fiction liberates us. How anyone can remain sane without it is, frankly, difficult for me to understand. (And, yes, I am actually counting scripted television programs as fiction, for this purpose.) And it's not just a matter of a change of pace -- it's a matter of learning what others learn and we ourselves never might, simply because our lives do not offer us the chance. Even vicarious experience can be valuable. Non-fiction might explain to us how other -- real -- people act and react, but it offers the outside view, very seldom the inside one. It's the difference between reading a recipe and thinking you could probably cook, and cooking from the recipe and knowing you can. --Mario R.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Mario, you've expressed it very well indeed. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  6. [bows] You're welcome. And thank you, both for the compliment and, even more, for an interesting blog entry.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Mystery fiction helps us make sense of a chaotic world. It also gives us a satisfying end where justice prevails, when it seems to happen only occasionally in real life!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Amen, Victoria! I agree wholeheartedly.

    ReplyDelete
  9. My Mother explained our great love of mysteries like this: To read is life well lived. To solve a puzzle such as a mystery as you enjoy the story and characters gives our minds an ability to reach our minds and think beyond modern life, to use our old fashioned creative thinking skills and solve what mystery lies before us. To understand the circumstances of a death in a mystery book often gives you the best critical thinking of all.

    ReplyDelete