Booking through Thursday: Headlines
Booking Through Thursday is a weekly meme in which we answer a question about books or reading.
This week’s meme is:
The news has been horrifying and addictive this week, with catastrophe piled on catastrophe, to a degree that–if I had read this in a book or seen it in a movie–I’d be protesting that it was just too unlikely, too farfetched.
But, topics for novels get ripped from the headlines all the time. Or real-life events remind you of fiction (whether “believable” or not) that you’ve read but never expected to see. Or real life comes up with an event so unbelievable that it stretches you sense of reality.
Hmm … I can’t quite come up with an outright question to ask, but thinking about the theory of fiction and how it can affect and be affected by real world events can act as a buffer between the horrific events on the news and having to actually face that horror. So … what happens when the line between fiction and reality becomes all-too slim? Discuss!
This was a hard one. My answer could have been a lot longer, but these are some of the muddled thoughts that came too me this evening:
I certainly feel with the victims and follow the news of such disasters as the 2004 earthquake and tsunami, the big earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and New Zealand,the latest disaster in Japan and many of the other natural events that has catastrophic consequences for communities around the globe. But, if it’s not someone I already knew and cared about, I can’t relate to each individual victim in these events on a personal level. Nor can I relate personally with everyone loosing a loved one in a car accident or of a disease. It’s just not possible. None of us can. If we did, insanity wouldn’t be far away. What I can do is help by supporting and/or getting involved with relief organizations like Red Cross/Red Crescent and other organizations that work for causes that I think are important.
When I read fiction I do get a personal involvement with at least some of the victims in whatever real or fictional catastrophic event they get involved in. But, in fiction, like in real life, I only invest in a select few of the many people getting hit by this disaster. In The Day of the Triffids I think it’s a horrible destiny that befalls most people on the planet, but my feelings are invested in the select few that John Wyndham wanted me to invest in. Likewise, in Doomsday Book I only invest in those few victims of the black death that Connie Willis lets me get close to.
What I think fiction can do really well is giving me a better understanding of the events and people in them by letting me have a few fictional characters that I can get close to. I can cry for them, and I do cry, but they don’t have to stay with me for the rest of my life like a real person lost in the same events would, Anne Frank stays with me in a different way than any fictional character I’ve read about who died during the story. Also, the fictional characters in a disaster have a quite high survival rate (an absolutely amazing survival rate when you think about the situations many of them get into to make it a good read), making life easier for the reader.
Also, with fictional characters in a fictional event I don’t feel bad about disliking her/him so much that I actually want them dead. In the movie Independence Day I cheered for the evil aliens becase I found all the people in the movie so darn annoying.
If it’s a story with the natural disaster being blamed on warring or testy gods, secret government agencies and so on I must say that I prefer the author to make up her/his own natural disaster instead of using a real one. Using a real natural disaster in such a story seems disrespectful to the real victims. You can’t blame anyone for a natural disaster. Blame might be assigned for anything a society can control, such as some of the consequenses of the event. Nature just doesn’t care, so if the natural disaster in a fictional story doesn’t have natural causes I prefer them to be fictional disasters. It can of course be an earthquake, just not a specific one that actually has happened.
So, yes, for me fiction is a sort of buffer. As mentioned before, there’s only so many people you can have a personal and close relationship to. Fiction lets you have more personal relationships with people in many worlds, imitating life but not making you invest more emotions than you can bear.