Yes and no. Mostly no.

We can read fiction to leave our present surroundings, to enter our imaginations as they bounce off the words and images an author presents. We would spend time and go somewhere else, which could take our minds off of a difficulty and/or the minutia of the day-to-day. I, for example, can’t say that I don’t “lose myself” when reading fiction, that I don’t become immersed because I’ve become invested in the character’s wants and needs.

But what I really want to say to the question is “no.” Fiction is not escapism, though there are many people who would describe it as such, and plenty of Facebook memes saying exactly that. It implies that the only value in fiction is that it takes you away while also implying that it contains no “truth,” unlike nonfiction. Fans of nonfiction may say something like, “truth is stranger than fiction,” and/or “why would I want to read something that isn’t “true?” What they mean is what is the point of fiction?

As an author, I can tell you this: when I write, I’m digging deep into my past, my memory of others, the vast field of free association that thankfully sprawls in my mind. Sometimes, when I’m in a flow (prolonged period of intense writing when I lose sense of time) I catch myself acting out the character’s parts, as with facial expressions, gestures, I’m essentially embodying their emotional state as I bang out the words. It’s like acting. I am the filter the words pour through. As I write it, I am living it. What is more “real” than that?

And readers; are they not living it? Are they not invested, finding new paths for compassion, landing on a description that seems perfect to the point that they linger there with amazement, making connections that their life may not offer, and if readers are experiences these and related experiences, isn’t all of that “real?” Is it escape to be struck by a plot twist, a revelation, an image, or an epiphany?  Or is it personal, intimate, a rising tide of knowledge riding on top of emotion and therefore, alive within you?

A great book will be, in part, judged by its degree of psychological truth. Are these characters “realistic? The settings?” Etcetera. Although fiction is not technically “real,’ critics judge the work as though it is.