No, I’m not talking about how an experienced author can teach a newbie. Nor how a quilting expert can pass along pearls of wisdom that make a book more realistic. I’m talking about the things a reader can learn from books…even fiction.
In Robert Heinlein’s TUNNEL IN THE SKY, a group of high school seniors are taking a survival course. Their final exam is to be dumped on an unknown planet with only the equipment they can carry in a backpack. Somehow, they are “lost” for a few years and have to survive more than expected. From this book, I learned a lot of survival skills, including how humans react when their “world” has a catastrophic change. I also learned that it’s not always the more technologically advanced person who survives.
Books are also a great way to “visit” other countries and cultures…as long as the writer is accurate. One of my favorite authors was Betty Neels. She was an English nurse who married a Dutchman after WWII and most of her books were set in British or Dutch hospitals, One thing that always amazed me (besides the different spellings) was that on the day of surgery, all the patients got a “cuppa” tea before the procedure. In America, you can’t have anything to eat or drink for at least six hours ahead of time. I thought the Brits practice “old-fashioned” nursing until I met some nurses from England and asked them. They confirmed the practice and we had a fine time comparing the differences in nursing practices around the world.
A bit of my philosophy in life was formed by authors I read when I was younger. My early SF days formed my belief that Man MUST go into space as a species or perish. In my “rebellious” period, back in the ‘60’s, I lived by John Galt’s creed in Ayn Rand’s ATLAS SHRUGGED. “I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” Well, it made more sense when I didn’t know any better.
You get the point, though. Fiction writers don’t just entertain; they teach. How many battered women have found the courage to leave an abusive relationship from reading a romance? Who has been lured to a far-off country after reading about it in a book? Shoot, I’ve even gotten a few good recipes from some authors who “share” the character’s world famous recipe.
So, fellow authors, proudly wear your other hat. Never let it be said that we are “just” writers. We challenge the mind, explore the far reaches of the universe, mold society’s destiny…and get paid the big bucks for it also. Right!