UCSB Reads Presents “Why Read Fiction?”

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Quincy Lee
Science & Tech Editor

What compels us to turn through 500 pages of a novel? To sit through the plot-twists, agonizing events, cliff-hangers and stressful encounters? And what value does that perseverance leave us with?

The question has the earmarks of a challenging riddle, in which everyone has a different answer.

To share ideas on what makes this literary form so invaluable, the UCSB Library, as part of the UCSB Reads program, held a panel discussion this Tuesday. Consisting of Kay Young and Enda Duffy, English professors in the Comparative Literature program, Ken Kosik, Neuroscience professor, and Sameer Pandya, of Asian American Studies, the panel portrayed a variety of reasons why fiction serves a vital role.

Of the 11 years the UCSB Reads program has been in place, this is the first year that has highlighted a work of fiction. Luis Alberto Urrea’s novel, “Into the Beautiful North,” highlights the complexities of immigration through the story of Nayeli, a young Mexican woman entering the United States.

Contributing the first reason behind the value of fiction, Young referenced Nayeli as an “identifying character, the type that are there for you and you, as the reader, can get behind.” She revered the novel for enabling the reader to imagine the situation of others.

Through this novel, one engages in a social experience, and an experience that introduces entirely new types of people. Young continued, “the reader gets to see unique and colorful characters.” Understanding these differences, in the proverbial sense of stepping into someone else’s shoes, creates a feeling of empathy.

Young asked the question of, “what is the consequence if we don’t read fiction? If we don’t immerse ourselves in new worlds, and if we don’t engage with the diverse groups of people described in literature?”

The panel discussed how strange it would be if they hadn’t developed the conditions of empathy through reading about the lives of others. Through fiction, they were able to translate others’ issues into their own lives. These might have been issues they wouldn’t have come across without reading the stories.

Through the slow meditation of reading a novel, one is able to comprehend more than just the words on the page, more than just the characters in the story, more than just the plotline, and really consider what it means in their own life.

And in this contemplation, the reader gets captured in the mystery of the story. “The author is able to articulate an emotion or an idea that one had not previously considered,“ Pandya said as she described the overwhelming feeling of transformative literature.

Whether by detailing the choices made by characters in a dire situation or the complexities of overlooked individual, the novel has power to expand the mind of the reader. As Kosik noted, “Fiction deals with the gap between our perception and reality.”

In these stories, fiction stages scenarios of getting things wrong; the choices, relationships, and adventures that create uncertainty. Kosik explained the neurologic inclination of our brain to decipher clues and interpret meaning behind circumstances. He explained that the prediction aspect of human thinking is extremely rewarding for the reader. Almost as if the reading of the story is one continuous puzzle,

“Humans exist in stories, and we always have.” Young explained the primal bind to storytelling as a way we can understand the world around us, and more than just our own life’s experiences.

In that imagination of other worlds, the preconceptions of our own life fall away, and with it, the black and white divisions within the mind.

“Literature teaches that two opposite things can both be true,” Kosik mentioned.

This form of fiction offers a new interpretation of the subject, particularly with this year’s UCSB Reads program centered on the theme of immigration. It allows the students to have a wider perspective on a dynamic issue. Pandya referenced the entire question of the panel, saying, “It should be an easy question, but it’s not.” Because, like the trials and tribulations fiction represents, the novel contains within itself the many complexities of any real situation.

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