Monday, March 31, 2008

Reading (Non)Fiction

Reading fiction is like eating bananas. But reading non-fiction is like eating a jackfruit. I say this because of I am presently struggling to read a couple of books. I say struggling both in the time-limitation sense and that of difficulty in making progress through the pages without losing the finer points of the narrative.

I have never heard anyone saying that they wanted to go home from a busy workday, curl up by the fireplace and continue reading a nonfiction book such as 'An Essay Concerning Human Understanding' by John Locke or 'Walden' by Thoreau. (I know we could all benefit from reading such tomes instead of the Sidney Sheldons or the latest issues of Filmfare magazine. Walden is a magnificent diary on the experiments on simple living by the author.) So what is it that makes it so tough for people to pick up a nonfiction book when an easy fiction work is lying around, waiting to be read?

The simplest answer is that nonfiction reading requires an effort! You cannot really breeze through it as if you were waltzing through Jeffrey Archer's Kane and Abel. Skipping the meanings of a couple of words here and there will cause problems in later sections. You have to grasp meanings and explanations and apply them as you read to comprehend the insights the author is attempting to convey.

However, the joy of understanding and further contemplating the ideas after reading a serious nonfiction book cannot compare with the shallow thrill experienced after reading a, say, John Grisham courtroom drama. More often than not, after reading a fiction book, I am left with a feeling of emptiness, not what I am really taking away from this book. It is that momentary thrill and that 'aha' moment that we seek.

However, I am not belittling fiction. There can be works of fiction that are helpful in are that discuss social and cultural issues in the forms of stories so that the common man can identify with the scenarios, the problems and the solutions. (The first such works that come to my mind are S. L. Bhyrappa's novels).

But in the end, difficult as it may be to peel the jackfruit, it feels worth the effort after you taste the fruit! (^_^) (Maybe that's why jackfruits are seasonal like the nonfiction books!There is a glut or there is nothing.)

The book I am currently reading is called Shri Krishna Pareekshanam by DVG. Many scholars and philosophers have written several volumes and expositions on the meanings and relevances of Krishna's sayings in the Gita and his actions in Mahabharata. However, there have been a lot of controversies in explaining the thievery of Krishna (which is a taboo topic to discuss, since it was God himself taking what belongs to him) or his involvement with the Gopika strees. This book is an examination into many such aspects. However, too many Samskrita verses and old-style Kannada poetry is a deterrent since I don't have a good dictionary at hand or someone to discuss these topics with.