In 1748, a British politician named John Montagu used a lot of his free time playing cards. He also loved eating snacks, which was a problem during his card-playing sessions because he wanted to eat something while keeping one hand free to play cards.
So he came up with a brilliant idea. He ordered his butler to bring him beef between two slices of toast. This way, he can eat and play cards at the same time. His newly invented “sandwich,” the name for two slices of bread with meat in between, became one of the most popular meal inventions in the western world.
Now you are very likely to never forget the story of who invented the sandwich. Or at least, much less likely to do so than if it had been presented in bullet points or another purely information-based form.
Since the discovery of the first cave paintings over 27,000 years ago, storytelling has been one of our most fundamental communication methods.
When I was a kid, the world seemed black and white to me. Very dull & boring. I don’t remember exactly when I got into the habit of going to my grandpa’s room, sitting on his lap, and listening to his stories. I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed our little evening talks; I could also see my grandpa was happy because I was there to listen to his stories.
After listening to grandpa’s stories, I started to see the world differently. And what once seemed black and white turned out to be different shades of color.
It was from the stories told by grandpa that I first realized how much happiness we can get from a simple story.
When I got a little older, my grandpa introduced me to the world of books. So I started reading. From picture books to my father’s Soviet Russian books, I finish reading everything in the house. Every month, when Grandpa received his pension, he would go to the nearest bookstore with me and buy me a couple of books. This was the beginning of my Passion for Reading.
Throughout this journey, I have met many readers like me. Different and similar at the same time. And I have come to know that people read for various reasons.
Some read books to break the monotony of life. These are the ones who go seeking adventurous thrills and venture into the unknown. They cast spells, wield legendary swords, drink magical potions, fight monsters and overcome insurmountable odds. AKA the fiction readers.
Some read as part of their continuous quest for knowledge. These people devour memoirs, gobble up biographies, and spend days poring over mundane laws, philosophical texts, and archives from history.
Some read for vicarious experiences. These are the lazy ones who would rather cozy up on the sofa and drown themselves in the adventures of the Cooks and the ‘Supertramp.’ They visit cities that they have always dreamed of, have their perfect romantic encounters, taste the most aromatic cuisines and witness multiple eras from their comfort zones.
Some people read because it comes easier than going out and talking to people. They read because the characters in the books are simpler. They do not scorn; they do not judge. They give you all the time you need without betraying the slightest hint of impatience.
And then some read-only so that they can claim that they did.
As a kid, I read more simple fiction and a lot of fantasy. I wanted to experience different worlds, wanted to live in fantasies. A lot of books my grandpa gave me were fiction. Tarzan of the apes, Little house on the prairie, and Narnia were the books I fell in love with when I was a kid. Works of fiction can take you on journeys that are hard to replicate on a TV screen.
I’ve become more in tune with my own and others’ emotions over the past couple of years. Reading high-quality fiction has helped me to better understand people since good fiction reveals the characters’ psychology and motivations and how different people’s brains work.
But I no longer read fantasy, and the fiction I read today is more about complex characters and character development based in the real world; I am no longer interested in fantasy as an adult.
Since the past year, I’ve gotten into non-fiction, and I am currently in my non-fiction phase. Reading non-fiction satisfies my need for intellectual stimulation, and it helps me to better understand the world and its abstract systems by helping me to update and refine my models. These days I almost exclusively read non-fiction from diverse topics such as history, economics, autobiographies, anthropology, science, etc.
The way we see the world changes with time. A story is also something similar. When we re-read a story that we have read as children, the feeling we get now could be completely different compared to what we felt then.
But that exactly is the reason which makes reading a story very interesting. Because a story is interpreted in the way, we see the world. In childhood, we loved heroes, but as we grew, we came to understand the villain. Re-read your favorite books at different stages of your life. The plot never changes, but your perspective does.
That is why a story is a wonderful thing.
The ultimate form of escapism
To me, reading is a great way to escape the daily rush. A coping mechanism for stress. Wandering to a different world just by opening up a chapter and reading from sentence to sentence, I get to decide the pace. With a book in front of your nose, you can allow yourself to just ignore the world around you for a moment, for hours, or an entire day.
But after all, don’t we all like to just Forget our problems, even for a few minutes? We’re all confronted with difficulties, we are all trying to get away from either boredom, restlessness from staying at home, or being way too busy and the negative and depressing news we hear every day.
Isn’t the purpose of a story to help us escape this stressful, problematic world? By reading, you live someone else’s story. It helps you reflect, be involved in things you wouldn’t otherwise be involved in, and gain new insights.
Reading books has helped me to understand different aspects of the human condition and the world, and hence they serve different purposes, and I tend to read whatever I think I need at that moment.
A story truly is a wonderful thing.
Last week I found a book my grandpa gave me when I was a kid and that’s when I started to write this article about reading stories. My grandfather is not with me now, but I will never forget him because he lives in my stories now.