As a rule, middle-aged men (like me) don't read fiction. If we read at all, we prefer history, science, you know, facts. After a certain point, reading about people and events that don't exist begins to feel like, not a waste of time exactly, but it's not "making progress." Deep down, maybe it's a sense of running out out of time, but I feel as though I need to understand "the way things are".
Of course, as all the scare quotes and italics reveal, "the way things are" is a sort of fiction and fiction is about the way things are, but while non-fiction addresses the question quantitatively in a this-plus-this-plus-this sort of way that feels like progress, fiction examines the way things are in a more qualitative way. Non-fiction builds. Fiction soaks. And sometimes you need to soak. Fiction refreshes the parts facts can't reach.
I've been soaking recently, but as I step back, there does seem to have been some progress made. By chance, I read two books told largely from the perspective of tween girls. Both Atonement and Never Let Me Go are novels that expand from explosions within the dense, superheated social imagination of young girls. And both reminded me of Thomas de Zengotita's description in Mediated of tween girls as "impresarios of an evolving social art":
They devote enormous energy to mastering an array of symbols and cues, an interplay of appearance, clothes, accessories, music, slang...They know everything. Every lyric, every gesture, every band, every brand name, every novel expression of approval or disdain. But they know much more than that. They are not mere scholars. They are not pedants. They are not just an audience of passive consumers...They can do it themselves. They are performers.
Of course, all three (five, including me and Dave) of these guys are middle-aged men imagining the world of tween girls, which may be why it sounds like an especially grisly version of Star Search. But it did all kick me back into the world of facts, wondering why fiction is read largely by women and whether it has something to do with whether you see the world of social imagination as fact or fiction.