Fictions and Feelings

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Writing fiction is the act of weaving a series of lies to arrive at a greater truth. ― Khaled Hosseini

It was one lazy Sunday afternoon. My husband decided to do cooking and laundry to give me a break from those mundane weekend activities. Alone in a corner, I was reading the first story from Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Unaccustomed Earth” and I was sobbing.
There was a part about mother-daughter relationship that made me speculate about a time in future when my mother won’t be around.

I hardly cry. But the magic of Lahiri’s crisp writing about a family I didn’t know, made me remember my own family and certain life decisions and certain unavoidable situations that aging gifts.

I read “Unaccustomed Earth” before. Too many times. Normally I re-read only those that I mark with an invisible highlighter as “best books I’ve read.” Some books mean differently at different phases of my life. I remember, my husband, in a surprised tone, asked me that afternoon, ” Why do you read such books that make you cry? You wanted to have a good Sunday.”

I actually had a good Sunday, because I could read the story, crying was just the dessert.

That’s the world of fictions. You feel your’re close to those characters on the pages of books. Your mind wanders in an undisclosed world. Most of the times those characters vanish as soon as you reach the last page.  But while you’re in the middle, you suddenly feel hidden pride for Amy(in Gone Girl.) You get lost analyzing what life offers to Gauri (in The Lowland) and muse on her life as if she was your long lost best friend. You pray for a “happy ending” for Hazel and Augustus ( in The Fault in Our Stars) and you jump out of joy after reading the last page of “The husband’s secret” like a winner, like you already predicted the end. Or, You just forget time and distance and even all the realities when you just want to be Juliet Ashton ( In The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.)
Power of knowing someone’s life so close and the power of knowing the end suddenly prove to you that the world is your oyster.

A great fiction sparks many interpretations. Its meanings, and when and where it was written, change with our views and times. Each time we read it, we learn and in learning we grow in understanding ourselves and the world around us. A timeless story then becomes a “classic”, at least on our own book-shelf, at least by our own definitions.

But then why only fictions? We can learn so many things from real history too, or by reading what contemporary inventions are happening in Science, and technology. Why should we invest time in learning something that means “untrue” or a “fiction” or pure entertainment?

I have been asked this questions a lot.

Once I met an older relative who told me on my face, “Reading fictions is not real reading. It does not make you a real reader.” I, though, took out the wise part from his comment and got all volumes of “Conversations with God” from library for myself that year. I loved reading those books so much that I gifted my relative a copy, as a token of gratitude. Growing up taught me that a lot of criticisms deserved such gratitude. Long story short, he never gifted me a single book in all these years, maybe because my reading didn’t seem real reading! But I still don’t agree with his view on fiction reading. 

I love non-fictions too. Of course. How did I learn about algebra, Tesla cars, and how to “lean in” and life of Steve Jobs, if I didn’t read non-fictions? But I find pure joy only on pages of fictions. In my opinion, the best fiction stories and novels carry certain wisdom of life that cannot be captured in any other way. Some of them leave long lasting impressions. Some of them remind me of complexities of human characters, the contradicts in behaviors, juxtaposition of two stories you know closely for real. Fictions are reality simulator sometimes. A great fiction reflects complexity, and the insights it offers stay with us.

Fictions also help building vocabulary, memory, and they make you more open to the world unknown. But to me, the most important reason to read a fiction is to see the growth of empathy. There is no other way to understand the world from a new perspective unless you read  many people’s stories and put yourself in their shoes for a few days. I have observed a lot of such people in my life: people who read more fictions are almost always people with more empathy.

So do we still need more reasons to sit in a corner with a fiction this weekend?

**

29 thoughts on “Fictions and Feelings

  1. Reading fiction is not as useless people think. It teaches you things that you would have never known. It sparks feelings you never would have felt. Only, you have to look for it. I want to read “Unaccustomed Earth” now! I will add it to my list.

    Btw, you have a new follower 🙂

    1. I so agree with you. Fictions take a reader to another world where most probably she won’t be able to go, or most probably she’ll want to go after reading. Plus a reader can feel another person’s agony, joy, like they’re not stranger to each other. That’s a wonderful feeling. Please read “Unaccustomed Earth”- the first story is my most favorite. 🙂 Thanks for the follow, Sampada. 🙂

  2. I love reading fiction! In fiction, anything is possible! I become Anne, Ami, Hercule Poirot and what not!
    I read non fiction too. Each of them have their own uniqueness.

    1. Yes. Like you, I love reading both. To me, reading non-fictions is like taking shower, eating breakfast- things that I do regularly, as part of routine. But Fiction reading, on the other hand, is like taking a trip to Kerala backwaters, or to Jim Corbett National park, or to Ladakh- things that I would love to do, things that are closer to my heart, things that are not a part of my routine but brings a lot of joy!

  3. I think I will read this weekend while it rains. It has been too long since I have been able to focus on reading a good book. I find it easier to be drawn in by fiction than a nonfiction book. Imagination is a wonderful thing.

    1. That’s a wonderful plan, Patrick. Let me know what you are going to read. It started drizzling already. Can’t wait to get back home and read something nice. I don’t have any unfinished fictions on my bookshelf this week. So I may read poetry while watching rain from the window.
      You’re right. One of the best gifts is the power of imagination. I can never write a Harry Potter. 🙂

      1. I’m intrigued by Pipe Francis’ release of Amoris Laetitia in regards to divorce and the Church. Not the lightest reading I could choose but it is a subject that unfortunately has impacted my walk with God. Will be interesting to see if the Protestant denominations follow his lead. When my mind becomes saturated, I will be reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (recommended by Goodreads).

  4. I remember, once, a boyfriend refusing to read ‘Little Bee’ because he’d seen me crying while reading it and had asked me how was it that I could find joy in such depressing stories. I think I must have said to him something much like your post, their is beauty in sadness and even in the fiction the characters live our lives and make us weep. I love fiction!!! 🙂

    1. “Little bee” is in my list now. I’ll share a funny story with you. I read “Life of Pi” for two weeks, it had a picture of a tiger on the cover. Next two weeks, I picked “The White Tiger” to read, it didn’t have a single tiger, on cover or in the story. A close friend observed me for a while and asked if I was doing research on tigers. Ha ha! Little moments like those make beautiful memories. Reading is fun!
      Sad stories carry such insights that they stay with us for a while. I’m always ready to jump into them to know deeper meanings. 🙂

  5. Conversations with God trilogy- a great collection of positivity. Archita, your relative was egomaniac, fiction reading is real reading. Make sure he knows that. I’m glad how positively you moved on to become better.

    Loved how you started this post and how you ended. Blessings.

    1. Ya, he was/is. Over the years, I realized, he felt little threatened to acknowledge the fact that I, being younger and being a girl, read more than he did. Things like this happen! Fiction reading is real, very real. I agree with you. But what he knows is his truth. I don’t agree with him, but I won’t waste time to make him understand my truth. I’ll focus on my reading and on other positive things in life.

  6. I love the book and fiction is the real deal. Those who stay away don’t know what they are missing. I am sure you could connect with Jhumpa since you are in US. The book throws interesting questions. Honestly, I feel that as our parents go old we should disconnect with them slowly since their departure might affect us a lot.
    Cheerz

  7. As always , brilliant ! I agree, fiction takes you to a world, makes you an integral part of it and we start living another life through those pages. Its all about happiness and joy, what might not seem as “true” reading for one,may be a devotion for other. Just a matter of perspective.
    Yes, I would unwind this weekend with a fiction.
    And your words touched my heart, makes for such great reading. Thank you !

    Please do visit my blog , would love to hear your thoughts on my short stories.

    @Subhmohanty from
    And Life Unfolds…

    A * Alone B * Butterfly C * Curry D * Dance E * Edge F * Forest G * Grin

    1. “Its all about happiness and joy, what might not seem as “true” reading for one,may be a devotion for other. Just a matter of perspective.” – So very true! So glad to know that you’ll read a fiction this weekend.

  8. This is what is called ‘ taking criticism positively.’ I totally agree with the comment of ‘Rays of Hope’. You wisdom and maturity in your writing. Loved it.

    1. Yay! So happy that you loved it. It’s just my perspective on the subject. I’m pretty good at taking criticisms and slicing out the negativity, but I strongly believe people don’t have to waste their precious time to criticize things that they don’t know. 😀

  9. Your thought-provoking articles should have places in magazines. I loved it, being a reader. But my take away from your post today is this line- “Growing up taught me that a lot of criticism deserved such gratitude. ” It blew my mind!

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