The last serious piece of fiction that I read was “The Book Thief”. Of course after that I also read Matsyagandha and The Norwegian Wood but they were intermittent pauses. Mostly I was reading non-fiction. But unless you are really seeking out something specific, non-fiction tends to be boring because there are very few good writers who are good storytellers with facts.
Reading for me is like listening to music. Of course the information, the core of what is being written, matters, but what also matters to me is the way things are written, the way sentences are formed, the way words are interwoven with each other to create literary lyricism. This I find more in fiction and less in non-fiction. You can compare fiction and non-fiction to watching an enchanting movie and watching a documentary. Of course there are times when you want to watch a documentary, but when you want to have a good experience you mostly watch a movie.
For a few months I have been working on a collection of short stories and I was feeling kind of stuck. The words wouldn’t come, the sentences wouldn’t form and the plot wouldn’t budge. It was as if I was having a totally meaningless conversation. Then I realised that it might be because I haven’t been getting my regular dose of fiction. All the time I was reading non-fiction, factual books telling me about this controversy and that controversy, this conspiracy and that conspiracy, how this is bad how that is good, how things are managed and not managed, who screwed the country and who served it well, and so on. I haven’t read something like Charles Dickens, Dostoevsky or even something like Salman Rushdie for years.
In order to write, you need to read. In order to write fiction, you need to read fiction, a lot of it. I don’t remember who said it, on an average a writer reads 200 books and then writes one. 200 books? I’m not even sure if I have read 200 books in my whole life.
Here is an interesting link that says reading fiction makes you a better human being. Whether it is really true or not remains to be seen. Does it really? I have observed many individuals who by all means must have read lots of fiction but are still quite lousy; better or worse, they first need to learn how to be human. On the other hand, I have seen people who have not read much but are quite nice.
But the points outlined in the article make sense. When you read fiction you are exposing yourself to different emotions, different points of views, different situations, different characters with different opinions, diverse backgrounds, cultural peculiarities and religious thoughts. Whether you agree with them or not is another matter, but you are exposed and whenever you are exposed to something you haven’t been exposed before, you are left a changed person, whether you realise it or not.