Reality Fatigue and the Truth of Why We Read What We Read

While thinking about the purpose of fiction today, I came up with the idea of “reality fatigue”. You see, I’d been following this chain of logic about how reading books is a form of escapism — escape from reality, that is — and I started to wonder what was so dreadful about the real world.

After all, most of us who actually have time to read works of fiction mustn’t be too badly off, surely? Our housing, clothing and food needs are obviously being adequately met. So what is it we book-loving, world-denying types are seeking to escape? Boredom?

Yes, to some degree, boredom or ennui is probably partly the reason we try to lose ourselves in the pages of a book. Also, isolation or alienation from others might explain this retreat into fictitious worlds of the imagination. Unhappiness due to heartbreak or loss might similarly be a motivating factor to read.

Whatever. I suppose, my conclusion was all of these various states of being could be labelled under the blanket term of “reality fatigue”. And, as it happens, I believe I was suffering today from exactly that.

My day wasn’t particularly arduous or stressful; in fact, I had nothing pressing to do and all my needs were satisfactorily being met. Yet I was on edge somehow. Real life was making me feel claustrophobic. There was a sameness to everything: my thoughts, my social interactions with others, those nagging doubts I’m habitually plagued with etc. It was all too familiarly familiar.

And then I stumbled upon a book. It was a collection of ghost stories, of all things. A genre I would usually avoid. However, my reality fatigue ran deep, and so I began reading the tales of horror contained therein, in spite of myself.

Well, in truth, I only read one such tale. Because that was all it took to change my day. The story I speak of was neither particularly scary or suspenseful. Okay, it was sort of suspenseful. Nonetheless, I felt I had lived through something by the time I’d finished reading it.

I’m not going to get into how the writing achieved this effect on me. My only interest, here and now, is to observe that the story recharged the coping mechanism within me that helps me deal with reality. The story cured me of my reality fatigue. Which makes me think reading, for me, isn’t strictly speaking a form of escape, but rather a way of replenishing my spirit. I believe the two concepts are quite different, although you might not agree?

On the flip-side of this idea, there is something interesting to be said about the role of us writers, then, when seen in the context of my experience of reality fatigue and its literature-based cure, I would argue.

As is usually the case, though, a much earlier thinker/writer than myself has distilled this idea down into a pithy phrase. And here ’tis:

“A tale, however slight, illuminates truth.” – Jalaluddin Rumi

In light of which, by reworking this phrase into slightly different words, I would put it to you there is literally no escaping the truth through the so-called “escapism” of reading. For even a tale told by an idiot signifies something, if it should connect with another, true?

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About Lorem Ipsum

Just some guy trying to figure out where the "on" switch is hid on the remote control—ah, forget it. Because, you know what, I'm also the kinda guy who always likes the book waaay more than the movie! View all posts by Lorem Ipsum

3 responses to “Reality Fatigue and the Truth of Why We Read What We Read

  • The Alternativist

    Perhaps this can be said regarding a few genre in particular, but I don’t essentially see literature as an escape from reality. It often makes us encounter with a reality out of our temporal and goegraphical sphere. I have written more in my blog on this. Thanks for kindling my thoughts.

    • Lorem Ipsum

      Yes, I might not have expressed myself as clearly as I might have liked. Because, I suppose, I’m actually of the opinion reading is not about escapism, at all. Literature, I would argue, put’s us in touch with certain truths about reality and therefore can be seen as a fresh way of engaging with reality, rather than escaping from it, ultimately. Thanks, for commenting!

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