Chilliwack MLA John Les took some people by surprise when he announced he wouldn't seek re-election in the spring.
But it was something else he said at his September press conference that caught my attention.
While discussing how interesting he finds politics-and how consuming the job can be-Les noted that his night-time reading, even when it was for pleasure, was usually directly relevant to life as a lawmaker.
"I never read fiction," he said. Now, Les didn't say this proudly. It was an off-handed remark.
And he's not alone: many, if not most, adults don't read fiction.
I've been in that camp myself for prolonged stretches.
The marker for fiction is not what it used to be. Novels and short stories used to be the most popular form of entertainment in western society. These days we tend to gravitate towards screens when we want to let our imaginations wander. And when we do want to read, we tend to head for the non-fiction part of the bookstore or library.
It's not that the quality of fiction has gone downhill. It hasn't, and even if it had, that doesn't mean you can't spend years reading the best novels written between, say, 1950 and 1980.
Our attitude towards entertainment has changed, as has what we expect from a book.
That's too bad, because we're missing something when we don't read fiction. To have politicians who don't read novels is particularly serious.
A good book is a window into how we as humans act and think. It makes us consider our own lives and those of people around us. Good writers introduce us to characters who, if they existed, would be unknowable by their local politicians.
It's an indirect way of learning about our world.
A non-fiction book can educate us about the newest science on climate change or homelessness or psychology. But if you pick up a (non-fiction) book by a psychologist named Daniel Kahneman, you'll read that humans learn about abstract concepts and statistics better when they're told a story, rather than handed a stack of facts and figures.
That might be why ancient cultures use myths to teach moral lessons.
The best fiction makes us think both about our own lives and the society we live in. Where a non-fiction book might be written to convince the reader of its premise, a good novel will force a reader to develop his or her own premise and question its validity.
All of which is not to say that non-fiction is intrinsically worse than fiction, or to make a point about Les. I just think that it's unwise for politicians to write off the single greatest driver of independent thought civilization has ever produced.
The main reason, I think, why people don't read fiction is because it can be daunting to find an author with a style that's fun and stimulating. That's why I stopped reading fiction for a while. With that in mind, here are a few authors I would recommend to Les-or anyone else- looking for a good book to read.
Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Coup-land, Margaret Atwood, Richard Russo, Colson Whitehead, Phillip Roth, Michael Chabon, Karin Fos-sum. When lost, remember: the folks who award the major literary prizes usually don't pick bad or boring books.
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