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.