Why do we read stories?

For entertainment? For a distraction? For learning something new? For living a thousand lives without moving an inch from our seat?

All of the above, of course. And more.

But we also read to find answers. It’s like opening an holy text when you’re worried, and finding the answers you seek, on the random page you chose. Even in a depressing novel that ends in tragedy, you might find what you are seeking. A sliver of thought, a fragment of philosophy, a shred of an idea. A ray of hope.

Lately I have been finding answers everywhere, in every book I read. Every author has something new to show me. No, they don’t solve my problems – if only they could! I’ve to do the solving all on my own. But they shine a new light on the darkness. They show me something I have forgotten or I have never known. They don’t help me with my choice, but they stand by me when I make mine. They expand our horizons and remind us of possibilities.

But when we write, we cannot think of the lessons we ought to leave behind for the reader to find. The moment we do that, the purpose is defeated.

Which, for some reason, reminds me of the water beetle.

β€œThe waterbeetle here shall teach 
A sermon far beyond your reach; 
He flabbergasts the Human race 
By gliding on the water’s face 
With ease, celerity, and grace; 
But if he ever stopped to think 
Of how he did it, he would sink.”
– Hilaire Belloc

I come from a book crazy family. Everyone in my immediate circle could be found poring over a book or a magazine; always going to the library to discover something interesting; always talking of books, new and old. I never thought twice about it. I suppose I believed unconsciously that every family was like that. Much later, when I made friends with people who “never read much” I was stunned that such people did exist.

I leave you with a beautiful thought from the inimitable Carl Sagan: “Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

(Photo: Sapna Book store, Elements Mall, Bengaluru)