Of the many genres of books, I most love fictional stories, where
authors can take license with their characters to create powerful stories. For
me, reading a novel suspends time and allows me to experience the inner
workings of another human, expanding my own worldview. Research has shown that
reading fiction increases levels of empathy, but great literature cannot be
reduced to only that value; one should probably not read for the sole purpose of becoming more empathetic.
Though I read alone, curled up in whatever squishy chair I can
find, fiction does not isolate me. I always experience novels as a collective
endeavor, filled with the people who make up a society and their own aspirations
for a feeling of unity. To me, all stories push me to explore and understand
what it means to be a human being – an impossibly large question – which I
think is what causes fictional novels to break loose of conventional ideas and
travel to fictional places, so they can reach outside of their limits and touch
people from all around the world.
Novels allow me to reimagine what is possible for my society
regardless of what the establishment, the status quo, or the powerful, think. They
wrestle with questions of good, evil, justice, and morality. They inspire and
require me to use my imagination and interpretive abilities to understand their
Few art forms can fill me with the anxiety of living in a
totalitarian outpost under an all-powerful dictatorship like Orwell’s 1984 —
written coincidently the same year Kim il-Sung established his party-state of
North Korea. Reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved
allows me to witness both the violence and the boundless love of
African-American life pre- and post-emancipation. She forces me to imagine what
it would be like to live in a society that condemned you before you were born.
A society that turned your grandparents into disposable property and parents
into untouchables. And to still be able to find light and warmth between the
cracks. Stories such as these, work against those who seek to misrepresent the
memory of history, and attempt to vanquish those human experiences. This
imagination, memory, and desire to find lessons in experiences – the things that
motivate me to read – are human qualities not even the most oppressive state
can extinguish. Even when writing can label someone a ‘counter-revolutionary,’
people will resist and write with passion, often on the threat of death. Why? Because
remembering and communicating one’s story is as natural as breathing, and
necessary to educate a society, even amidst violence and chaos.
Novels have taught me that reality is ambiguous, that human beings
are fallible. That we are all united across time and space by the experience of
life. They show me that depravity is often met with great heroism that can be
found in the simplest actions. They remind me that there is always time for
humor and that my life is by definition absurd, so I might as well laugh at it.
More than anything else, novels allow me to paint a picture of the complex
humanity of characters negotiating between hope and hatred, lust and love,
integration and resistance, and allow inside someone else’s head to experience
a reality that is, as the name of the form suggests, completely novel.