Landon Donahue awoke one morning with the weight of the world pressing upon his lungs, forcing frantic, short breaths from the balding man. Two hasty puffs of his albuterol inhaler and a steamy shower provided relief, but the problem was still there. Thus, with great sadness, after dressing for the day, he pulled a scarf across his nose and mouth and picked up Edgar, the cat he shared his life with the previous three weeks. Landon had grown fond of the tabby, as he did with all cats, because Edgar reminded him so much of his childhood pet, also named Edgar and also a tabby. The old Edgar ran away one night when nine-year-old Landon had accidentally left the back door open.
“You were a great cat Edgar. I couldn’t have chosen a better companion,” Landon said, his voice muffled by the wool scarf and his sorrow.
The cat offered no assurances. Not in the form of an understanding meow or a head nuzzle. Instead, the cat seemed to indict his round owner with pointed glares from his amber eyes. As Landon forced the cat into the cardboard carrier, Edgar made one last effort and landed a deep scratch across the man’s forearm. Hives quickly raised around the cut, and beads of blood formed at its seam. Lasting reminders. He dropped the cat off at a rescue shelter on his way to work.
I was in a conversation recently with a friend about a few of the books I’ve recently read – specifically Samanta Schweblin’s brilliant Fever Dream and Murakami’s Men Without Women. During our conversation, she kept coming back to the same argument about her own reading habits, specifically that she wished she had the time to read. It caught me by surprise because this is a woman who seems to have more time than most to read. Indeed, she posts two or three lengthy articles a day on her social media accounts and has in fact read many non-fiction books, mostly of the self-help variety, in recent months. What she really meant to say was that she wished she had the time to read fiction, as though she placed less importance on fiction, reducing it to a cheap pleasure.
She’s not alone. In this age of content, that which is being consumed is quick information, fragments of something larger – a segment on NPR here, a podcast there, CNN soundbites from the treadmill at the gym. And while I will never be one to argue for ignorance about what is actually going on in the world, I will posit that entering the fictional world is of equal importance, never more so than today, because while the content we consume informs of us our hyper-defined identities in this digital world, it does little to change us. It’s homogenous, rooted in group-think and our evolved need to belong to a side of the aisle on every topic making the rounds. But whereas digital consumption might inform (or entertain) our preset belief systems, reading fiction can inform of us of who we really are, or who we want to be. Continue reading