Not long ago, after my last trip to Russia, I had a conversation with an American very eminent in the field of politics. I asked him what he read, and he replied that he studied history, sociology, economics, and law.
“How about fiction-novels, plays, poetry?” I asked.
“No,” he said, “I have never had time for them. There is so much else I have to read.”
I said, “Sir, I have recently visited Russia for the third time. I don’t know how well I understand Russians; but I do know that if I had only read Russian history I could not have had the access to Russian thinking I have had from reading Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Pushkin, Turgenev, Sholokhov, and Ehrenburg. History only recounts, with some inaccuracy, what they did. The fiction tells, or tries to tell, why they did it and what they felt and were like when they did it.”
My friend nodded gravely. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he said. “Yes, that might be so; I had always thought of fiction as opposed to fact.”
But in considering the American past, how poor we would be in information without Huckleberry Finn, An American Tragedy, Winesburg, Ohio, Main Street, The Great Gatsby, and As I Lay Dying. And if you want to know about Pennsylvania of the last hundred years, you’ll read O’Hara or you’ll know less than you might.”
From America and Americans: