Recently I had a discussion with a friend who was advocating the reading of non-fiction over against fiction. In his opinion, reading novels does not educate the reader in anything near as valuable as what could be gained by reading non-fiction. An investment in fiction does not add to a person's storehouse of intelligence. [I am paraphrasing].
And I did concede him a few points, along these lines -- proceeding to defend my approximate 80% to 20% fiction-to-non-fiction ratios by saying I read novels for entertainment. The chemical rush I get, etc.
But thinking about it afterward -- there is so much more to it than this. For me, it is much more than merely a different way of watching a movie. By reading fiction, I believe we actually do "learn" things in ways that we could not otherwise know [in our limited experience] and sometimes we gain this "knowledge" in ways that would be impossible by learning facts.
Anyhoo -- my friend also said that he does not like to read novels because "not a one of them has ever ended well." To summarize, he feels that all novels have poor endings that only serve to exemplify an author's frustration with the requirement of a last page, at some point.
I sort of disagreed, but when he asked me to provide an example of a novel that satisfactorily ended, I was a bit mute, I must admit.
But then I thought of Anna Karenina, and so I offered that one as my choice of a well-ended novel. I've read it twice, and it's probably my favourite novel ever. It merits a third reading. I'm a bit of a collector, the three copies shown above are mine, and I have a misplaced fourth one around here somewhere.
Both times, I remember finishing Tolstoy's Anna and thinking, "Damn, that is a good novel!"
It ends up zeroing in on the character of Levin, rather than Anna. All though the book, Levin [some say a representation of Tolstoy himself] holds out for real love. His love for a woman named Kitty. This calm pairing is pitted against the tempestuous one of Anna and Count Vronsky all the way along. And in the end Tolstoy focuses his attention on Levin's spiritual regeneration, showing this to be much more a novel of ideas than a book fixated on romance. The very last paragraph is so amazing -- my favourite in all of literature. [Don't read it if you have not read the book, don't peek!]
But the very final line is this:
…my life, my whole life, independently of anything that may happen to me, is every moment of it no longer meaningless as it was before, but has an unquestionable meaning of goodness with which I have the power to invest it.
I love that.
It emphasizes the very thing the suicidal Anna was unable to accomplish in her own life.
Do any of you have any further arguments I can offer my friend, as to the merits of fiction? Any favourite well-ended novels?
Books with a last page that can justify having read the first one?