Since making my lifelong desire to write fiction known within my immediate professional and social circle, I have come face to face once again with some of the quizzical expressions and misconceptions I experienced as a child who lived primarily in an imaginary world. While undoubtedly supportive and well-meaning, many friends are simply unable to conceal their lack of understanding for a “hobby” that requires solitude and a “sacrifice” of social interaction and urge me to “not forget to make time for myself and have fun now and then.”
Jonathan Franzen describes his own despair about how little novels matter in current mainstream society and the dwindling of a literary America in his essay “Why Bother?” (How To Be Alone). America’s waning interest in literature, suggests Franzen, is due in large part to “the incompatibility of the slow work of reading and the hyperkinesis of modern life.”
I would purport further that activities done alone are considered by many to be inferior to activities shared with others. To opt deliberately for solitary activities in lieu of social ones often prompts questions of physical or mental well-being. Reading is tedious work done in seclusion, ostensibly the pastime of one who has no friends, spouse, children, life.
Readers, Franzen emphasizes, are not antisocial but are rather socially isolated by their “nerdy pursuits.” In my mind, it is this isolation that is so extraordinary and complex, evoking feelings of intellectual and emotional elitism one minute and eccentricity, social estrangement, and profound loneliness the next. Paradoxically, it is reading and writing that typically assuage the very pangs of alienation caused by the innate need to retreat to our books, alone.