Staff Writer: Pooja Narayan
Opinion Editor: Anusha Bapat
By scrolling through just a few Google searches, one can find numerous childcare blogs dedicated to persuading children to read nonfiction. Suggestions include choosing books with pictures and interactive features. As a fiction lover, my instinct is to sigh in frustration. But regardless of preference, this frantic race to get children to read nonfiction and guide them towards the supposed “truth” is dismissive and inaccurate. These suggestions weren’t malicious. Yet they’re another sign that rather than encouraging children to find meaning within fiction, we replace it and dismiss it as unimportant beyond purposes of imagination.
It confused me that we called fiction fiction, defining it as a genre of untruths, despite it holding so much that was life-changing for me. Fiction, to me, was never really about the fantastical. It’s appealing not only because of its fabrications but because of how even in worlds so full of magic, people and situations fundamentally remained the same.
While it’s true that some genres are purposefully reality-adjacent, it’s also true that fantastical genres can be just as reality-adjacent. Let’s take Harry Potter, for simplicity’s sake. In The Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry believes that his parents’ ex-friend has escaped from prison after betraying his parents twelve years prior. Or, in other words, an orphaned boy going to boarding school in England on legacy status thinks that a recently escaped prisoner from HMP Belmarsh is his parent’s ex-friend who betrayed them to a crime syndicate. Unlikely? Sure. But impossible? No.
The above was an extravagant example, meant to translate The Prisoner of Azkaban into reality by changing a few keywords. It was not a suggestion that all fictional books are actually true, but an attempt to illustrate how reality hides behind everything we write in fiction, whether we mean it to or not.
We cannot read dialogue without repurposing certain phrases and mannerisms in our own real lives; we cannot peruse stereotypical dystopian books without absorbing ideas about government and power; we cannot curse the impracticability of every deus ex machina without recognizing the contrast between the power we have over ourselves and the limited power we have over others. The books we read change us, whether they fundamentally change our worldview or simply provide perspective on reality. And fiction has more power to change us than nonfiction ever will.
Change for the better or worse? That’s up in the air. But we are constantly creating ourselves with everything we do and think. Reality changes us. Nonfiction is only an explanation of the world, of what’s concrete. So nonfiction only changes us insofar as reality does. But because it’s removed from our world, fiction exists on a separate plane and intersects reality at the line of truth. To quote The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, fiction is “on the surface, an intelligible lie; underneath, the unintelligible truth.”
Obviously, no one should solely read fiction or nonfiction. But while imagination is important, it’s not the point of fiction. The point of any literary work remains the same: to explore the human condition. While expanding reading taste is important, we can’t push elitist messages about reading, not when many already struggle with being interested in it. Children should read the books they wish to read.
I used Harry Potter as an example above precisely for its strangeness. But not all fiction books are created equal; Percy Jackson and Marvel comics appeal to readers because they are apparent proof that extraordinary things are around the corner, that the incredible isn’t so removed from us. If I walked into the Empire State Building and asked for the 600th floor, people would laugh. But that doesn’t mean we have to live like monotony is expected, unavoidable. We create our stories, and until we execute them, they remain fiction.