Reading is a very important part of my life. I once read that the role of a writer is that of a custodian, a secretary, an interpreter of culture. A writer must have a strong sense of responsibility to the society, must be able to inspire, guide, challenge, and entertain. To write is to know something. A poet once said that she feels insulted whenever she is asked to write about love, because she believes there are more important issues in the world to write about and address other than love. I believe this sense of responsibility that writers have to the society is what guides them to the stories they tell. To tell a story is to say: this is the important story. It really is a pleasure to read a writer who knows a great deal even when that knowledge might be imperfect. I think my love for books came from a desire to know things. I was always hungry to learn, perhaps because I was always searching for something.
There’s a difference between stories from novels and information. Information is always, by definition, partial, incomplete, fragmentary, while the writers of stories and novels, on the other hand, narrate and evoke our common humanity in narratives that we can ourselves identify with even though the lives may be unknown to us. They stimulate our imagination, and enlarge our sensitivities, our hearts, thereby, improving our sympathies and educating our capacity for moral judgement. Reading good stories inspires us to pay certain kinds of attention. I think our insane attachment to old cultures and tradition and our limited view of them as static comes from a serious lack of a reading culture in our society, because culture and tradition should be in a state of constant evolution since it is majorly created by humans.
We’re constantly bombarded with information. This onslaught of readily available information has also created an environment where one of the worst social sins is to appear uninformed. Ours is a culture where it’s hugely embarrassing not to have an opinion on something, it’s a culture where “if you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room”. Sadly, what this mentality does is distance and imprison us in our indifference, and rob us of the opportunity to learn something new. “Knowledge is the knowing that we can not know” – Ralph Waldo Emerson said.
This is why storytellers are more urgently needed today, and writing as an art is valuable. A great storyteller helps us understand what matters, and why it matters. Storytelling not only sets standards but, when it’s really great, makes us want to live up to those standards, to transcend them. One of the best novels I ever read is “A Lineage of Grace” by Francine Rivers, it taught me more about God, Christianity, and Grace, than I ever learnt anywhere else. A great story informs, but it is not really about providing information – rather, what it does is invite an expansion of understanding, a certain level of self-awareness. It also provides a new understanding of the world, of our place in it, of life. In other words, it helps us negotiate between the ideal and the real by cultivating the right balance of critical thinking and hope. Hope because, according to E.B. White, the role of the writer is “to lift people up, not lower them down.”
We need to cultivate a reading culture in our families and society, and storytellers need to be more courageous in their storytelling.