There’s not much you can’t learn from books. Facts are only the easy ones. With enough time (which none of us have) and a great memory, you can learn more than you will ever need to know.
However, it’s not just facts and figures you can learn and understand by reading. If you are a lifelong learner, and open to learning from everyone and everything you encounter, there’s so much more to learn about humans as a species, a family and about yourself.
Story is a great way to learning. Most children’s stories have a theme, a moral, a lesson to learn. So do all stories if we but look for the lesson. One of the most basic and satisfying is that we are more alike than we sometimes want to think. We learn to understand ourselves by watching and listening to others. We can learn how to live and work with those around us by the way story characters interact.
Don’t you love reading a book from which you learn something that you don’t expect. I loved reading Dick Francis for the wide variety of career choices of his characters. I loved learning about the racing industry, of course, glassblowing, selling beads and semiprecious gems, toymaking and so much more.
What do you love learning from books you read?
Print or electronic, in any language and/or pictures, books transport us to our favourite places from the microscopic to outer space, anywhere on earth or in the imagination of the writer.
We can choose to travel back in time and live for a moment in Roman, medieval, regency or colonial times or to some imagined alternate world in the future where space travel and aliens are an everyday part our life. We might meet famous people who touch our hearts with their words, art, their selflessness or sheer goodness, or infamous people we would never wish to meet, safely watch how they lived and thought from the distance which can only be bridged by either a book or a nightmare.
We could live through the happiest or saddest of times, solve the most puzzling riddles, murders or searches for truth, the elixir of life as we choose. Wherever we choose to go with the help of a book, we may learn about ourselves and how we might better live and laugh and love.
No matter where you are today, physically or emotionally, you can choose the magic which may transport you wherever you wish to go. So, what magic will you choose for yourself today?
One of the things I love about reading is that it opens up to us the secrets of the rest of the world. Written down are all kinds of secrets, secrets of all the educational disciplines, stories, strange and true, weird and wonderful, biographies and autobiographies of people, their cultures and quirks.
The more I know about others, the more I learn about myself by identifying where I differ from others and where I am similar. It’s much easier to see in others what I find difficult to see in myself. It’s a good thing that reading is so personal and private. A lot of the things I learn are not things I want to broadcast to the world, especially not until I’ve had the chance to correct my direction. As a lifelong learner, there have been many such corrections I’ve had to make and every day I find more.
How does a good fiction writer reveal the truths that reality obscures? There are two ways: by what she tells us, and by what she leaves out of the story.
The story the reader finally reads in your book is like the 10% of the iceberg above the waterline. The rest, the 90% below water is the blood sweat and tears that went into the 10%. All the things the writer knows about the story but left on the ‘cutting room floor’.
So what should be left out? Big blocks of back-story, The boring bits, the mundane everyday things that happen, the bits of dialogue that translate to ‘Hello, how are you?’ and the ‘Fine thanks. Hasn’t it been hot lately.’ Unfortunately, there’s always lots of interesting information about the characters, lots of intriguing research and darling little scenes. But, anything that slows the pace of the story, anything that drops the reader out of the story, anything that allows the reader to remember that sleep is essential, that phone calls need to be made, housework must be done, that’s what’s left out. Padding, filling, fluff, waffle, anything repeated…you got the idea.
So, what’s in the tip of the iceberg? The story, the whole story and nothing but the story.
The setting of your story can be almost as important as character and plot. The same story set in different times and places can change it completely while demonstrating that despite the advances in technology and differences in lifestyle, humans are basically the same no matter where or when we live.
Fairy Tales have always triggered the imagination of writers, becoming some of the most popular tropes like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. Echoes of these stories can be heard around the world in every conceivable time and place.
Jane Austen’s original classic English Regency romances have been rewritten or “updated”, set in different times and places with varying degrees of success. Even adaptations for movies based on Pride and Prejudice vary widely from the miniseries of 1995 (starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth) and the 2005 movie (starring Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen) to variations like the 2004 Bollywood movie Bride and Prejudice, or the London of Bridget Jones’ Diary. Each has a very different feel and atmosphere while telling more or less the same story.
Look at the novels of Agatha Christie. She definitely knew how to make setting work for her story. Murder is murder whether it happens on a train, a river cruise, an island or in the middle of London such as of Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, And Then There Were None and Sparkling Cyanide.
As a reader, I am grateful to writers everywhere who can spirit me away from the dentist’s waiting room, the sickroom, a long commute or a relaxing holiday to anywhere in the world or outside it from deepest darkest space, anywhere in time or to the familiarity of my own town and time, making stories come alive.