Estimated reading time: 4-5 mins
This essay was originally sent through my newsletter – INTERMITTENT INSIGHTS
I think am addicted to learning.
There’s something about the feeling of acquiring new, hopefully useful, information that creates an immense sense of immediate gratification.
It’s true, of all possible addictions, this may be one of the very best to have, but it doesn’t come with downsides.
You can become too obsessed with learning and improving yourself that you forget to live and enjoy your life altogether.
What’s the purpose of improving then, if not to help us enjoy our lives more?
And yet, that’s the trap that many of us find ourselves in.
Society and the advertising industry contribute to that. They make us feel like we always lack something, and we should strive to gain it before we can fully enjoy ourselves. But if you think about it, you know that’s a scam.
You’re complete as you are, right now, and you have the right to allow yourself to slow down. appreciate the beauty around you. do what makes your “soul sing”.
But I think I went on a tangent…. back to the topic.
I normally feed my addiction by reading non-fiction books. There are literally infinite (ever-growing) non-fiction books to read, and they are all so attractive; full of promises about who you can become…
Indeed, after feeling the rush of reading nonfiction for the first time, it somehow never occurred to me to pick up a novel (the last one I had read may have been Harry Potter in middle school).
“Why would I want to do that, when there’s so much useful stuff I can learn?” I would tell myself. And so I went on, for years, growing my reading list with non-fiction books and reading one after another.
Many of those books improved the quality of my life, and I’ll be eternally grateful to their authors. But I’ve been oblivious to the ways in which reading fiction could have also changed my life for the better, albeit in different ways.
You now may be wondering, how/why did I even get started reading fiction?
Good Luck in the Bad Luck
I was in an extreme lockdown in Vietnam when my e-reader suddenly broke.
My initial reaction:
“OMG, I can’t read any of my books for god-knows how long, I better get a new Kindle asap”
But actually, rather than rushing to buy a new e-reader and going back to my reading habits, I embraced the situation as an opportunity to read new things. Fortunately, the house I was staying at had quite a few books in English, most of which I would have never read normally.
One of those was Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.
A great book about a young man studying in Tokyo and facing the many challenges that life throws at him as best as he can.
Ain’t No Pathos in Non-Fiction!
As I started reading Norwegian Wood, I felt something I had never felt before while reading; a deep excitement in the reading experience, intense curiosity, and a whole range of emotions bubbling up. All I wanted to do was continue reading and immersing myself in the imaginary world created by Murakami.
I think I usually feel excitement and curiosity about non-fiction as well, but they are of a totally different kind and intensity.
We could say that non-fiction makes the mind excited (about the possibilities of who you can become in the future). On the other hand, fiction allows your mind to relax, while touching your heart and allowing your imagination to wander, explore, play.
I also loved the remarkably beautiful descriptions of moments of seemingly regular life that appear throughout the book.
I decided to include a few examples below, even though I realize that extrapolating just a quote can’t do any justice to it.
While you read a novel your mind gets in a certain imaginary state where it starts imagining and visualizing things, and it would be impossible to get in that state just by reading a few quotes. But still, it may give an idea.
Naoko started walking the minute we hit the street, and I hurried after her, keeping a few paces behind. I could have closed the distance between us, but something held me back. I walked with my eyes on her shoulders and her straight black hair. She wore a big, brown hairslide, and when she turned her head I caught a glimpse of a small, white ear.
As the three of us sat facing the candle amid these hushed surroundings, it began to seem as if we were the only ones left on some far edge of the world. The still shadows of the moonlight and the swaying shadows of the candlelight met and melded on the white walls of the flat. Naoko and I sat next to each other on the sofa, and Reiko settled into the rocking chair facing us.
Colours shone with an exceptional clarity in the rain: the ground was a deep black, the pine branches a brilliant green, and the people wrapped in yellow looking like otherworldly spirits that were only allowed to wander the earth on rainy mornings.
I sipped my coffee and watched the scene passing by the shop window. It was a typical university springtime scene as the new year was getting underway: a haze hanging in the sky, the cherry trees blooming, the new students (you could tell at a glance) carrying armloads of new books.
Reading those (and many other) passages, portrayed so beautifully, inspired me to look for and appreciate more the beauty in my own daily life.
So many moments that could usually be ignored for being so common, can actually become a small source of pleasure, and a reminder of how beautiful the moment is, if we just pay attention.
And then, of course, many novels also sprinkle gems of wisdom here and there.
Months ago, after reading Norwegian Wood, I promised myself I would read more fiction, and I started adding some novels to my reading list. But eventually, I found myself continuously attracted by this or that non-fiction book.
Recently though, inspired by Rob Burbea’s Dharma, where things like wonder, imagination, and beauty play an important role, I picked up Kafka on the Shore (again by Murakami), and once more, I got a rush of excitement about reading that I hadn’t felt in a while.
Usually, when reading non-fiction, I read a few books at a time, alternating depending on my mood or interests. But while reading Kafka on the Shore, there was no way I could pick up any other book. I was just too taken in.
This time I think things shifted, and now I’m just allowing myself to enjoy the beauty of fiction without the fear of missing out on some life hack that I could have found in non-fiction.
Below are a few books that I read since then (and I enjoyed)
- The Island By Aldous Huxley
- The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald
- The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
- One, No One, and One Hundred Thousand by Luigi Pirandello
I’d love to hear from anyone who’s got recommendations, or whom like me decides to give novels a try after years of non-fiction 🙂 Feel free to reach out