Why I read fiction

And how it helps me with what I do.

The first books that I had read cover to cover were the Indian classics, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata. I must be 9 years old, I guess. I had found the simplified Hindi version of these epics, which were in the school course material of my elder cousins. And boy, I was hooked! I read these books not once, but many times over and over again. So much that I accompanied my friends to a Ramayana and Mahabharata quiz that the local Bengali community organized every Durga Puja. I reckon we had won second prize as well. So that was a win, I’d say.

I have never been an introvert — quite the opposite, as you might know if you know me. But I’ve always found solace in stories. There’s something surreal about fiction — any kind of fiction. The way that our brains are wired and put together, fiction sets something off up there; and you lose all material sense in the world and start living in that imaginary world for a moment or few. I, for one, love being subjected to that. I find it comforting.

I read fiction because it fuels my imagination.

If you do something creative as part of your day job, you need an inlet and a healthy supply of that creative juice. Coding (which is what I do for most part of my work) requires imagination, and most of coding is done when you’re not at the desk. So you need to keep those cogs turning all the time. You never know when you’ll hit the solution of that problem that’s been bugging you for most of your week. Reading fiction and letting yourself immerse completely in the story, if only for a few minutes everyday, gives your grey cells the essential fodder.

I had picked up Kafka on the Shore by Murakami a few months back. It took me almost two months to finish the book, since I could only manage a couple of pages everyday — but I savoured each and every line of that book. Cross my heart.

I read fiction because it makes me stop and reflect.

The books which would be the most valuable to you would compel you to put them down every few pages — and think about what you’ve just read. You’d either need some time to absorb the scope of what you just read, or you’d wander off to your own chain of thoughts set off by it. Either way, you embark on this journey of self-realization every few pages, and then come back to the story only to get some more.

Reflection like this, according to research, is a vital part of the learning process. You think about things that are unreal in the physical world — but they’re already flesh and bones in your mind. There are no rules, and there is no box. This makes easier to comprehend complex constructs of ideas, philosophy or emotions.

I read fiction because it pays off to.

Reading fiction, and difficult fiction, takes a lot of patience and perseverance. a 700-page book is a lot of reading material, and even more so when you have to put it down every three pages for a mental detour or daydream. But it’s always so satisfying when you reach the end of it. Sometimes you feel sad (as I do at the end of every Dan Brown book I read, because it has ended), but you’re always satiated. This is true with most of the work that we do. Hard work always pays off, whatever the fruits might be.

I’m currently reading a few books at the moment, a mix of fiction and non-fiction: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami), Letters from a Stoic (Seneca), The Magic of Reality (Richard Dawkins) and Love, Loss and What We Ate (Padma Lakshmi).