I love fiction. I grew up reading them, be it Jeffrey Archer, Kalki or even Sidney Sheldon. If you ask me if I would read Sheldon now, no way I would. I can only say it was a phase.
There are books that I found pleasure in when I was an adolescent. There are many I cherish even now like Ponniyin Selvan, which I read when I was a teen. I was able to enjoy a book like One Hundred Years of Solitude only because I read it in my twenties.
I have a modest book collection ranging from yesteryear classics to contemporary works, comprising mostly of fiction.
I have often wondered why I’m so obsessed when it comes to fiction. I buy them everywhere I go. Fiction is like a magnet that draws me like no other, even when I was small. I have lived with the characters I read in books; cried and laughed with them; sometimes have died with them. There are times the pain of losing a character is too much that it is impossible to move on. That is how powerful the characters are. For all means and purposes they were alive.
But why? A question I have always pondered. There is so much written about how reading can be a therapy, reduce stress levels and other benefits apart from the obvious. True enough.
What am I, an individual, getting out of reading fiction. An escape from reality, yes. I can immerse myself in a good fiction for days together. I remember reading Ponniyin Selvan in a frenzy few days before my Class 12 results. I was so busy living in Chola period and fighting alongside Vandhiyadevan and romancing him that I forgot to eat, sleep and bathe let alone remember the impending doom, which was my Class 12 results.
But is that all there is to fiction? May be not. Like I had mentioned before, right books can heal you. That is why you have biblio therapists, who can help you get through the rough patch by prescribing selected readings. But what fiction does is much more than just healing. It makes you dream. It gives you hope. It opens doors to the impossible.
I have seen a lot of people who argue that fiction is a waste of time, for I’m reading someone else’s fantasy. According to them, reading nonfiction improves understanding of society and something along those lines. Agreed.
One of my favourite non-fiction was Blink written by Malcolm Gladwell. It was one of the best nonfiction books I have read. It spoke about how decisions are made in a blink with a lot of case studies. It was very engaging. It gave me a lot to think about. There are no two ways to understanding it. It puts a cap on what you infer from the text.
In case of fiction it is infinite. There is no one way to understanding it. That is probably why each book holds different meaning to different people who read it.
I do not know what people thought when they read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. When I was doing my dissertation on Marquez, I was overwhelmed by the amount of books available on decoding this masterpiece alone. There were range of themes that arose from it and discussed like death, loneliness, freedom, war, fate and of course supernatural. They were all true but if you ask me what would be my impression on the book, it would be desire.
It is the desire to live, love and possess that drove Buendia to find Macondo. It was what brought on the war that killed its inhabitants and finally destroyed it. The fate of Macondo was sealed a long time ago. But it showed me that despite tragedy, desire is what makes us humans. It is alright to yearn for something and die for it even if it ends in destruction.
When I was reading Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead, I felt conflicted. There was this guy, who does not give a damn about what world thinks of him and does what he wants. I did not know what to make of him. Should I appreciate his guts or consider him stupid for his inability to understand? I decided to marvel at his composure even when nothing went right. I loved his unchanging attitude towards life during the best and worst times.
In real life it is really hard finding a man like Howard Roark. Even if there is a man like him, I wonder if there would be anyone who would marvel at him.
But why do we even admire these characters that stray away from what we consider ‘normal’? May be deep down all of us want to live the way we want; the way we desire to live even if it was for an instant however impractical it may be.
Guess this is what fiction does. It helps you understand your own emotions, your wants and needs, even if you are not fully aware of it at that moment. It makes you confront the innate yearning and question the conditioning with which you were brought up. You understand them because fiction to some extent is based on reality. You understand it because you can relate to it. It is liberating because it helps you let go of your constricted self.
I think that is the beauty of fiction.