In Praise of Reading and Fiction

Mario Vargas Llosa
Route, the small northern publisher which has published some of my short stories and pioneered e-books in Britain, has just brought out the text of south american author Mario Vargas Llosa’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature. It’s free as a pdf download (and costs only pence for the kindle version) and includes a telephone interview with Vargas Llosa as well.

Besides the author being something of a literary pin-up, Vargas Llosa’s novel ‘Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter’ has always been one of my all-time favourite books. I laughed and laughed while I read it and cried when I finished it. It’s a masterpiece of story-telling. So I was delighted when he was honoured with the Nobel Prize.

His acceptance speech is called In Praise of Reading and Fiction and he talks about how reading changed his life as a child:

Reading changed dreams into life and life into dreams and placed the universe of literature within reach of the boy I once was. My mother told me the first things I wrote were continuations of the stories I read because it made me sad when they concluded or because I wanted to change their endings. And perhaps this is what I have spent my life doing without realizing it: prolonging in time, as I grew, matured, and aged, the stories that filled my childhood with exaltation and adventures.
 He makes a good case for Literature making the world a better place:-

... thanks to literature, to the consciousness it shapes, the desires and longings it inspires, and our disenchantment with reality when we return from the journey to a beautiful fantasy, civilization is now less cruel than when storytellers began to humanize life with their fables. We would be worse than we are without the good books we have read, more conformist, not as restless, more submissive, and the critical spirit, the engine of progress, would not even exist. Like writing, reading is a protest against the insufficiencies of life. When we look in fiction for what is missing in life, we are saying, with no need to say it or even to know it, that life as it is does not satisfy our thirst for the absolute – the foundation of the human condition – and should be better. We invent fictions in order to live somehow the many lives we would like to lead when we barely have one at our disposal.
 He also believes that fiction creates a medium for people to understand each other:

Good literature erects bridges between different peoples, and by having us enjoy, suffer, or feel surprise, unites us beneath the languages, beliefs, habits, customs, and prejudices that separate us.

He  talks about his own passion for writing.

“Writing is a way of living,” said Flaubert. Yes, absolutely, a way of living with illusion and joy and a fire throwing out sparks in your head, struggling with intractable words until you master them, exploring the broad world like a hunter tracking down desirable prey to feed an embryonic fiction and appease the voracious appetite of every story that, as it grows, would like to devour every other story.

Above all he’s alert to the political aspects of writing.

The lies of literature become truths through us, the readers transformed, infected with longings and, through the fault of fiction, permanently questioning a mediocre reality. Sorcery, when literature offers us the hope of having what we do not have, being what we are not, acceding to that impossible existence where like pagan gods we feel mortal and eternal at the same time, that introduces into our spirits non-conformity and rebellion, which are behind all the heroic deeds that have contributed to the reduction of violence in human relationships. Reducing violence, not ending it. Because ours will always be, fortunately, an unfinished story. That is why we have to continue dreaming, reading, and writing, the most effective way we have found to alleviate our mortal condition, to defeat the corrosion of time, and to transform the impossible into possibility.

It's an inspirational read at a time when writers, particularly of fiction, are feeling discouraged by diminishing returns and publishing cut-backs.


  1. Thank you for alerting me to this Kathleen! Fantastic stuff. I love Llosa too. I've linked to it on my blog. X

  2. Thanks from me, too, Kathleen. Aunt Julie and the Scriptwriter is one of my all-time favourite books, too. I loved it! Missed it when I finished reading it.

  3. I have not read Aunt Julie and the Scriptwriter.
    It sounds like I must.

  4. Thank you Kathyfor drawing attention to this wonderful polemic on the ongoing liberating power of reading and writing fiction. And for making me order Julie and the Scriptwriter. Your blog is an inspiration in these occasionally dispiriting days. wx


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