3 Reasons To Read Fiction Even As An Adult

I was a finance major in my final year of undergraduate education. We were learning Financial Markets and Institutions, famously known among students as FMI, during the Fall semester. Our course instructor strongly urged us to use our imagination and logic while dealing with the numerous cases we were up during class discussions and assignments. He said, as I still remember clearly, ‘You might not be able to be so creative in the next semester. It will be more of financial applications and numericals then. I’m not saying you can’t be creative, it’s just that it’s very difficult for anyone to challenge William Sharpe’s ratio. You can, but to be able to do that you must first learn to use your imagination in the current class.’

That’s what I’d like to call the different between fiction and non-fiction reading.

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of my friends and family discover their joy of reading, which is fantastic. More books and ideas to share everywhere. But I’ve also seen a pattern that would certainly make Neil Gaiman, a champion of reading for pleasure and libraries, worry. A lot of adults read a lot of non-fiction (which is great), but they somehow end up turning a blind eye to fiction. Fiction as the word suggests is a lie, it’s untrue; why should anyone waste their time reading it? Why don’t we read more of creativity hacks and technology instead?

I’m definitely not against non fiction reading. It’s necessary. It gives us ideas and perspective we wouldn’t find elsewhere. And with information widely available, cost of printing going down, it has never been a better time to be alive to read.

#1 Fiction is not a trap
I’ve met friends and family who often tell me that fiction is a trap. It has to do with the fact that it is untrue, I presume. I don’t usually end up defending fiction and at times I do feel guilty about it. But it also gives me a chance to ask ‘Why do you feel that way?’ The answers mostly reveal being stuck with a particular genre for a long time. I believe it’s like myopia to the eyes. I’m myopic and without my prescription glasses everything is blurry. If I never wore glasses, I’d perhaps end up thinking the world is exactly as it seems to my eyes: blurry. But of course it is not.

#2 Fiction helps you question
If non fiction hands you knowledge, fiction helps you question. And questioning is just as important as gathering knowledge. Why did Harry choose to fight Voldemort? Why did Parijat wrote what she wrote?

#3 Fiction eases the burden of reality
In line with #2.
It can be extremely difficult to put ourselves into the feet of real people. Even in case of non fiction storytelling, it is at times difficult to narrow down the circumstances people go through. All the while comparison is usually tricky, because everyone is different and circumstances alter cases. But the case is different for fiction. It’s not real, and in this lies a subtle freedom. We can compare, question and demand alternatives that perhaps would have been very difficult otherwise. It’s easier to question fiction, and in return to question reality. And this is how we learn things do not have to be the way they are.

I think what my finance instructor meant when he said use your imagination this semester was that I wasn’t working with just facts, I was working with scenarios and cases where people acted, and thus, anything was possible as long as it made sense (of course financial rules applied). The next semester was equally challenging and interesting, but I realized he was right, I couldn’t use my mind more freely. There were equations I could not challenge, not yet. But the previous semester’s imaginative working helped in a lot of cases, especially in interpretation questions.

Fiction and non fiction reading as some say might go hand-in-hand. One answers, another questions, then a few more answers, a few more questions. Like an eternal dance of light and darkness, that continues to challenge and nourish our intellectual life.

I am extremely lucky to have discovered the joy of reading as a young child. Peter Rabbit was my favorite because there was a long long line of generation in it. It is rare to find a book that mentions Great great great great grand father. The book was bright yellow and it was very attractive. We were made to memorize poems in our Nepali literature class, that I still treasure. The lines might have become blurry in my memory but the learnings are still omnipresent.

The joy of reading, it’s not a big thing, but it’s fulfilling, it’s nourishing, it’s exactly how it is supposed to be- reading.


Do let me know what you thought about this article. It’s still nebulous in parts. The more I read, the more I discover, and thus, a longer path awaits to be seen. Till then, here’s my little part.

Severus-Lily: Was It Only Romantic Love?

I know it is not true, because J.K. Rowling herself told us so, and still I couldn’t stop myself from exploring the angle of platonic friendship in two beloved Harry Potter characters, Severus Snape and Lily Evans. Severus’s complex nature and the final manifestation twisted everything. Severus loved Lily too much to let her go even after she passed away. Some say he was obsessed with her and couldn’t move on, and some other love him dearly for the sacrifices he made. It was all ‘L-O-V-E’.

Of course it was love, but what kind of love? Love remains a central theme in the Harry Potter series. It is the ultimate weapon that destroys Lord Voldemort. Lily’s love for Harry, Harry’s friendship with Ron and Hermione, Dobby’s loyalty to Harry. All the characters on the good side manifest love, including the Malfoy’s despite standing with the Dark Lord. So many different kinds of love have been explored in the series, with one of the major highlights being Severus and Lily.

The question isn’t as much as ‘Were these two characters just friends?’, as much as ‘Would it justify everything if they were just friends?’ Simply saying, would Severus do everything he did if Lily were just a friend?

Here’s a small poll I did on facebook to know what my Harry-Potter-Loving-Friends think. Seems like I might not be alone about the different angle in Severus-Lily’s relationship.

Screen Shot 2018-06-06 at 7.09.07 PM

Family is a strong theme running right from the first page of the first book. Sacrifices have been made for families and by families throughout the series. By the end we see that scarifies have been made for romantic love too, by Severus for Lily. Carrying a mountain for family and for romantic love has been an ongoing theme in literature for thousand of years. But sacrifices have also been made by friends, well wishes and everyone who stood on the good side. We have Tonks and Lupin who died leaving their new born son, Harry’s DA friends-Neville, Ginny, Luna, Seamus, Dean who fought because it was right. Everyone risked their lives. And that is why I wonder if Severus would do what he did, even if Lily were just a friend he deeply cared about.

Never in the books is it explicitly mentioned that Severus loved Lily in a romantic way. Sure there are a lot of metaphors the famous one being the ‘Always’ dialogue between Severus and Dumbledore, but then again aren’t metaphors suppose to mean more than what can be seen?

Severus was loyal to the Dark Lord and spills the prophesy made by Trelawney only to realize that the Dark Lord would now kill Harry, who was Lily’s son. Anyone could have felt the shock, Lily doesn’t have to be his love interest for the shock to run down his veins. The guilt of putting your dear friend in danger (and eventually having her murdered) might take toll on anyone. So Severus’s actions could have been his own path to redemption. There’s no saying it wasn’t love, but there are so many other possibilities, other emotions, other kinds of love, which often run under the shadows of romantic love and family love.

There’s so much more. Wouldn’t you agree?

On Happy Endings

Oh I love happy endings. Who doesn’t? They are nice and sweet, leave you with the fuzzy warm feeling inside. They make you oh-so-hopeful. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. But its representation as the final and fatal is likely to be less than sweet at times.

The one thing straight forwardly wrong with the happy ending representation is how it overshadows the entire process, the journey. In an on going universe nothing truly is final. It’s a journey.

Happy ending is an outcome, of actions we take. But how often do actions know where they are headed to?

This representation of happy endings as the all-end-goals have us seeking for resolutions in the most desperate of situation, and we’d get sad when the ending isn’t pretty neat before the credits roll. Of course we’d be sad, we have projected a piece of ourselves into the character on screen, or on the page. Loose ends pinch us, because we have a lot of loose ends all over ourselves.

Over focused happy endings take the charm away from the entire process, tying our actions to an ultimate outcome which is supposed to be ‘happy’ and an ‘end’. But think of a time when you couldn’t take the next step itself. How would you imagine the end, no matter how happy? You’re in between moments, soaking in time. Maybe there’s no need to tie the ends sometimes, maybe they cannot be tied at times.

We’re here in between, in the middle of a nasty process of trying, failing, learning, leaving, moving, grieving, overcoming; in between transitions waiting to take the next step. Maybe we already have, maybe we haven’t. It isn’t in the end.

Why I Read

In 2017, I helped a colleague and friend finish his first ever novel – Catch 22, a novel I myself had never read. I constantly kept on pestering- what’s the update on the book? How many pages did you read today? Sometimes he told me how exciting it was to read that particular chapter. And it was amazing, but it wasn’t easy. After months, he finally finished the book and called it an achievement. I’m glad I played a small part by helping him start his reading journey, by recommending a book, which turned out to be a little difficult to be suggested as a starter. A good deed accomplished in the year gone by.

I discovered reading very early in life. My family is a collection of massive bookworms. My mother introduced me to Chinese literature and my father to Russian. They are both avid book readers and we all hope to set up our tiny little library someday. I love visiting bookstores as much as people love dropping by in cafes, and when I see children in book stores, it makes me extremely happy.

I vividly remember a day from my school library. Our librarian had awarded points to classes that borrowed the most number of books and pasted the results on the green notice board just outside the library. I might have been in grade 8 or 9. I checked to see where my class stood. And I stood there, heartbroken. The class that borrowed most of the books were grade 4 and 5. ┬áThe points got smaller and smaller as the grades increased in number. Don’t ask me what my class secured. I don’t remember to be honest. But it was low enough to make me sad. One plausible explanation might be the proximity of the famous/infamous grade 10 examination. As students approach higher grades much of their focus goes into studying course materials. This approach might not necessarily be wrong, but it reflects a behavior, a trend that as we get older, we may begin to read very little. Priorities bigger than grade 10 examinations are bound to pop up and catch us unguarded. This might of course not be true for everyone. But the important aspect here is that if given access and opportunity, children read and they discover the power of books. Why should it be any different for grown ups, especially when we have access to so much more?

The school library had always been my best resource place. I remember how poorly I read when I was in grade 11 and 12, when my new school barely had anything else but textbooks. It didn’t feel like I was losing anything then, but when I rediscovered another library in university, I realized how I missed the magic of books and how I wish I could go back and reutilize that lost time.

One of my favorite places in my university was the library. It was a beautiful place, had ample sunlight. But most importantly it was quiet and sadly very few student visited it, and perhaps ironically that was the reason I loved it. It was never crowded. This takes me back to my school and the terrifying statistics of borrowing books our school librarian had discovered and pasted on the green notice board.

But why read? Why waste that precious moment digging up words, instead of gold?

There internet is filled with wonderful reasons on why to read, from scientific to aesthetic. Here are mine.

A book is a conversation, a conversation that is well planned and prepared with determination and dedicated on the part of the writer. I think it’s a beautiful conversation. It’s not one way as you might think. A book is a two way conversation. It is like conversing with a friend, a connection that words fail to describe. It is a feeling, like that when you sit down with a friend, new or old, in a cafe with a latte and apple pie placed in front of you. It is a moment, one that is different with each friend. And you speak too, as you feel new and old emotions, discover and rediscover old and new ideas. Indeed, it is a two way conversation.

A book is also an escape, into the imaginable and the unfathomable. It is a reality and a lie. But it is beautiful just the same. It is time enclosed carefully into words by its creator. In other words, it is magic. There is no reason why you should deny yourself of this magic that is so readily available.

But a book is also labor put into time. It is difficult, demands patience and sometimes may leave you fuming at the end. A conversation with a friend might go any way. But you’d still go and meet a friend. Because that’s what we do! Yes, that’s what we do.

That’s exactly how a book is like, a friend.

In Neil Gaiman’s words, “You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.”

But if you haven’t started reading yet, do not worry and begin, or as JK Rowling says, “If you do not like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” And the only way to find it, is to find it!

It’s great to know that my friend who just began reading in 2017, with a lot of trouble, has now bought two new books. You just need a bit of the magic dust, and the rest as they say is history!

I hope you find yours very soon.

Happy World Book Day 2018!

Cheers!
Alfa

P.S. The image above is my little attempt at virtual drawing some time back, also from 2017.