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A Return to Fiction


My relationship with voluntary book-reading has gotten pretty tumultuous over the last few years. Through high school and college, most of my reading has been textbooks, articles, and code — all usually serving some kind of extrinsic purpose.

The few books I read on my own volition each year were down-to-earth “boring” non-fiction: Quiet, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Factfulness, for example.

I began this year on a similar footing (albeit probably setting a new personal reading record in college) by reading Liftoff, Atomic Habits, and Algorithms to Live By. All the aforementioned books have changed my thinking in some way, so I don’t regret reading them. That hasn’t stopped me from wondering what I’ve been missing in the realm of fiction though.

After seeing various mentions of Frank Herbert’s Dune series among friends in the space industry, I decided to step foot into the world of fiction again. It felt like book culture shock.

I’ll admit that it was difficult to maintain reading velocity at first. I was drowning in a sea of literary devices. Getting to the point required wading through rip currents of imagery and unwrapping tangles of metaphors. It felt arduous, but I eventually learned to follow along.

In non-fiction, authors will also typically introduce a story or anecdote before diving into detailed narrative. Here, I was thrown right into the world of Arrakis, having to connect the dots between characters and cultures by myself . Perhaps I’d have had an easier time with a thriller on earth. I have enough trouble remembering peoples’ names and relationships in real life. How was I going to learn about new families and entire dynasties in a book?!

I also found myself getting tangled up in dialogues at times. Again, it’s the result of stepping into territory I last visited half a decade ago.

However, I got into the groove after a few dozen pages. Characters’ roles and motivations made sense, and I felt more engaged as the story transitioned from exposition to action. I even had to pace myself so I wouldn’t finish the book before all my airplane journeys the past few weeks!

Fiction brings a certain sense of escapism that can’t be matched by non-fiction, being “in the zone” when coding, a hike in the mountains, or even Netflix. On face value, it seems less rewarding than non-fiction which tends to teach me something. Yet perhaps there’s value in jump-starting the creative part of the mind and diverting myself from constantly consuming and creating productive work.

I don’t know how long I’ll stay here, but I do leave a positive review for now. Away from the hullabaloo of social media, the pressure of work, and the tribulations of school lies a retreat for the mind — the land of fiction.

~ Amal