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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Essay: The Reading of Fiction

A self-evolvement that stays a perfect antidote to the primal condition of the wounded human psyche. For me, such a journey as an individual had to mould its path from storybooks.

I'm often amazed when many say they don't read fiction.

That such a thought is limited to the physical realms of a Mills 'n Boons or the general thriller is the classic deception. That it makes the growing executive sound less clever. And that they would rather dabble with non-fiction pieces that tell you how to be a millionaire and such.

An Asian and a philosophy almost unheard of, I eventually became part of the circle of the thousands who read avidly in trains, cafes, waiting rooms and departure lounges in Australia and England. New worlds for the traveller like me transformed itself into newer worlds.

I suppose in the West as comparable to the East, where the pursuit of materialism had already sealed its boundaries, many readers chose instead to develop their minds with a glorious infusion of the Arts. They sought a new open-mindedness as a liberation from parochial settings and conservatism; the kind that often encourage a rigidity to thought and opinion.

Although I wouldn't dismiss anything with the label popularity on it, there must be other ways besides materialistic pursuits, to expand the mind with which to receive its inner appeasement even as the outer consciousness would seek its satisfaction.

Cultural trends, & fads all serve their purpose though I don't feel involved with them. I have to admit that even these things once led me to where I stand now and to the future that is set before me, which no longer involves popular commercial draws.

I found and learnt from my travels, that reading fiction and other creative material like the political biography or philosophy also exalted its reader with generous gifts, especially with regards to the rapid fluency of any kind of argument or debate that would ensure. From practice, one would be forced to deal with articulation, eloquence and lucid thinking.

It was interesting that with something which even Nehru may not have anticipated involved the one-time scramble of thousands of Indian emigrants to South East Asia, that stetched on into the late 40s, 50s and 60s. Many of the older men brought along their libraries. The well-loved English classics came through cargo and followed dream-seekers on their voyages into the new East.

This was obvious especially with the Malayalee community (Kerala). In modest homes all over Malaysia, slightly-damaged books - but still beautiful to the eye - grabbed their fair share of space in attics and cluttered little study rooms.

These old books together with the avid fervour their stories commanded were handed down to the children. The classics and poems which were all derived from the humble picture book, became my stalwart in the years when things began to go wrong and I needed a lifebelt to renew visions.

In this way alone, I was blessed to have become a daughter of my country, Malaysia, and my time.

Can literature and philosophy or the dawning of a sudden intellectual disposition ever come to look for someone, so unexpectedly when its passion makes you drop everything else for a time of reflection, study and meditation?
Yes, it did for me when world literature came once more to hold me in its deep embrace. And slowly, the faint memory of my picture books and love for the novel helped me back safely into my old dreams, vibrance and new ambitions.

Sometimes, I still hope that stories will once again co-operate to draw me into a new exhilaration...a time when once more I would discover many authors to turn my life dramatically around. So far, that time has not come. And though I wait in anticipation, I fear it never might.

Literary fiction, philosophy, essays etc all make fine teachers for the thinker. There are many roads to Dante and Plato and who says, we cannot walk them easily and cleverly. If only for the fact that life's lessons should have counted for something valuable. Just don't dismiss the reading of fiction as a time-waster. It probably holds one of the greatest keys to the renewal of the mind and to the polished art of self-discovery.

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