Working towards a Bachelor of Arts, Simran writes articles on modern history, art theory, religion, and mythology, and analyses of texts.
To read is to discover yourself through fictional universes. Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis taught me reading a book means to break the barrier between your reality and a fictional universe. In doing so, the text becomes a mirror that reflects your beliefs and values. To read is to also use your reality to judge the reliability of fictional universes you are presented with.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein showed me how books glimpses into the human psyche, they are as subjective and at times, unreliable. The world I was plunged into in Chimamanda Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck demonstrated that to read is to expand your knowledge of other realities. This was revealed to me through her depiction of Nigerian lives. Therefore, reading means to dip into other universes and return with a deeper understanding of your own.
Reading is a journey of self-discovery through the exploration of a fictional universe. For the reader, this universe must cross the barrier between being mere text on a page to a story the reader can emotionally invest in.
Kafka here compares reading to walking on a frozen ocean. The ice acts as a barrier between your universe and fictional universes. It is a book’s duty to break this barrier and transfix the reader with emotional, spiritual, and intellectual connections. Once it does, you are able to swim in the reality the book offers.
Metamorphosis taught me this is where the reader goes from blankly skimming the ink on the page to investing in this reality (Kafka 1915, pp. 1- 77). For example, the ending comprises of the protagonist, Gregor, dying only to be discarded and forgotten by his family. This ending evoked emotions of rage and sadness in me on behalf of the protagonist. But why?
Romain Rolland points out how you never simply read a book: you read yourself through the book, to either control or discover yourself. If this is so, learning what makes these “axes” effective brings you closer to understanding yourself.
For instance, I became passionate about how the pressures working-class families face can lead to apathy, the unfair treatment towards those who are not understood, and how people can put their reputation before the welfare of a loved one. Additionally, by exploring Gregor’s psychology, I saw the frustrations I have experienced in my personal life.
Where I invested my empathy and emotions reflected my values of compassion, loyalty, and humanity. The values and emotions I projected onto the book reflected myself. This “axe” simply spotlighted how tight of a grip my values have when interpreting worlds completely different from my own. Thus, Kafka showed me to read is not only to connect with the universe you are presented with but to explore your mind.
Benefits of Reading
Books showed me how to read is to use your own reality to examine fictional ones. Books taught me to read a book as an exploration of the human psyche therefore, I learned not to automatically trust a book’s dominant reading.
Bruner states reading triggers a reader’s capacity to perceive reality through the consciousness of protagonists and perceive the world simultaneously through different viewpoints (Castano & Kidd 2013, pp. 377-378). Reading has helped me develop this skill and use different viewpoints to consider the reliability of narrators.
Everyone has the capacity to view the world through different perspectives, but the perspectives you sympathise with reveals your character. By juggling between perspectives such as Frankenstein and the creature, Frankenstein demonstrated how there are more to the dominant reading books offer (Shelley 1818, pp. 1- 345).
To illustrate this, Frankenstein’s perspective reveals his anxiety over why he rejected his creation. Someone concerned about the ethics of technology and harbours the fear of the unknown would sympathise with Frankenstein. They would furthermore argue the creature is inherently evil. However, we also are shown the misery the creature endures from being rejected by society.
My values had me sympathising with the creature and arguing his mistreatment caused his violent actions. This book showed me how reading is not about automatically accepting the dominant reading.
A story is a perception of the universe it is exploring, and like any perception, it is as subjective as a human mind. To read is to decide fact from fiction; what characters you relate to; what parts of the story you like or despise, and in doing so, you learn more about yourself. Hence, to read is to recognise who you are through fictional worlds and use this discovery to figure out how you perceive stories you read.
To read is to build bridges to other realities and come back with a deeper understanding of your own reality. Castano and Kidd argue fiction expands our knowledge about the lives of others and our similarities (2013, p. 377).
This expansion of knowledge cultivates our understanding of others and helps us understand our own reality in the process. The Thing Around Your Neck showed me the legitimacy of Castano and Kidd’s claim by teaching me to read is to be plunged into unfamiliar worlds and return with a greater understanding of my reality (Adichie 2016, pp. 1-300). By exploring Nigerian perspectives, the text taught me the struggles of immigration and adjusting to the western culture, which helps me understand the journeys of people I know who have immigrated.
I sympathized with the strife Nigerians endured due to General Abacha, the Biafran war, and the Christian-Muslim violence in Nigeria. I saw the heartache marriage customs had caused on characters like Akunna.
Even though I did not live through these experiences, I am able to sympathise with those who endured and currently endure the depicted struggles. In summation, books like The Thing Around Your Neck taught me that to read is to expand your perception of reality, so you may grow to become sympathetic toward others.
Reading is a journey where you explore other universes and return with a deeper understanding of your own. Rolland explained to read is to read yourself through a book. The emotions Metamorphosis evoked from me highlight how readers project their values and ethics onto what they read.
Bruner explained the capacity a reader has to perceive the world simultaneously through different viewpoints. Frankenstein revealed to me the legitimacy of this claim through his exploration of different viewpoints and the human psyche. Castano, Kidd, and Adichie revealed how fiction expands our knowledge about different realities and our similarities. Ultimately, reading is a useful tool that builds bridges between countless lives and enriches humanity as a whole.
How Books Can Open Your Mind
Adichie, Chimamanda 2016, The Thing Around Your Neck, 4th Estate, London. eBook version, retrieved 16 January 2018, from iBooks.
Castano, Emanuele & Kidd, David 2013, Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind, Science, vol. 342, no. 6156, pp. 377-380.
Goodreads n.d., Quotable Quotes, Goodreads, San Francisco, viewed 30 March 2018, <https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/5223.Franz_Kafka>
Goodreads n.d., Quotable Quotes, Goodreads, San Francisco, viewed 30 March 2018, <https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7521513-no-one-ever-reads-a-book-he-reads-himself-through>
Kafka, Franz 1915, The Metamorphosis, tran. David Wyllie, University of Adelaide, Adelaide. Viewed 18 October 2018 from Planet PDF.
Shelley, Mary 1818, Frankenstein Or the Modern Prometheus, Oxford University Press, New York. Viewed 18 October 2018 from Planet PDF.
© 2018 Simran Singh