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?