An edited version of Neil Gaiman’s lecture for the Reading Agency can be found over at The Guardian, entitled “Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming”. It’s pretty long but a really good read. I wanted to mention it here on the blog because I know so many readers will be able to relate to the things that he said. Here’s one section that I particularly loved:
“Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.
And while we’re on the subject, I’d like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if “escapist” fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.
If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn’t you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with (and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.
As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.”
I love how he described reading fiction as traveling to another world because that’s absolutely true, books take us out of our own world and brings us to magical places. I’m an escapist reader and I like getting lost inside a book, how it lets me live in a fictional world for a few hours. I love it when authors talk about how powerful reading is because they say it much more eloquently that I ever could. Have you read (or listened to) Neil Gaiman’s lecture? What did you think of it?
Artwork by Simini Blocker