Baz Ozturk | September 08, 2015
My life doesn’t make sense. It’s strange, absurd. The world around me feels vague, and I feel vague within it. I don’t know myself. I could think of a couple of adjectives, strengths and weaknesses like they ask you to come up with in a new class at school, but in what way that amounts to who or what I am…
“a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” – Franz Kafka
Marcel Proust once said “every reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of himself.” I think reading fiction, why I do it, or why it is so pleasurable for me, can be encapsulated in one sentence: I do it to better see myself. Franz Kafka referred to a good book as like “a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” This is what good fiction strives to do: say the unsayable, make clearer our obscurities, and illuminate those hazy corners of our understanding. Putting that aside, it’s also simply the greatest kind of entertainment, giving flight to the imagination and access to live many different lives.
It’s funny to feel most like myself when lost to a world that doesn’t exist, populated by characters who never were, made up by a person I’ve never met – connected to myself in a way that I’m not when I’m stumbling through day to day life. It’s a kind of magic, and it’s a lovely feeling. A character in one of Alice Munro’s stories “hated to hear the word ‘escape’ used about fiction. She might have argued, not just playfully, that it was real life that was the escape.” Fiction is an escape, yes, but it’s an escape to a place that brings us closer to our realities. And there’s no greater pleasure than those moments of connection and epiphany that occur when reading great literature.
“…my favourite is the kind that transforms the stuff of life – the repetitive, the ordinary, the everyday – into art.” – Baz Ozturk
I like all kinds of fiction, I can enjoy anything if it’s done well, but my favourite is the kind that transforms the stuff of life – the repetitive, the ordinary, the everyday – into art. John Updike once described his job as to “give the mundane its beautiful due.”
I also love the exquisite writing, meaning the language with which the writer has rendered the narrative, the beauty of a perfectly crafted sentence. It delights the aesthete in me. There is nothing like it. Reading such wonderful prose slows me down to the moment, and the hundreds of characters I’ve met and whose stories I’ve followed in such writing has shown me that “there is a kind of poetry, bad and good, in everything, everywhere we look.” That’s Ali Smith. It reminds me that there are people, many, who are like me: as complicated, anxiety-ridden and lonely, as disturbed and loving, as trapped in their bodies and locked in their heads as I am.
There are studies appearing all the time about the benefits of reading literary fiction, but any serious reader would know already how it influences us and makes us better people. It has made me more perceptive, a better critical thinker and observer, and a more empathetic and compassionate human. Fiction books are my soul food, junk food and brain food all in one. More, they’re my oxygen – I need them to live.
[ Credits: Words by Baz Ozturk, Illustration by me. ]