Here lies Donn’s Love for Fiction.
1994 – 1998
How education hindered my education
The Early Days
My interest in reading started late in life, and in so far as I remember, the first books I read for pleasure were from the The Three Investigators series, simple fiction for — as I once was — kids. The purchase of my first book from that series came about when some book sellers were holding a sale in my primary school (Rosyth Primary), back in 1994 (when I was in primary four, aged 10).
My friend, Meganaden (an Indian fellow I hung out with a lot, who incindentally shared the same name as one of the authors of the series, Megan), introduced me to the book. The cover of the book looked good, and thus I thought, it had to be good.
My love for fiction thus came about, and I read almost two(!) books a year from then on, all of which were part of that series. Before you break out in guffaws (two books, love for fiction), remember that I had, hitherto, never read for pleasure, and that even at Primary 1 level (aged 7 or 8), was having difficulty comprehending reading material for kindergarten-schoolers.
Taking up Literature
I started taking formal literature classes when I entered secondary school. We were given a book to read, and were told to analyse the text. I read through it once, and thought I understood it. Then came along the literature teacher.
She went through the text, line for line. Every sentence seemed connected to another. The word “black” on page 23 somehow was connected to the word “white” on page 123. The word “closed” on page 2 would be contrasted with “open” on page 189. And I am only speaking partially with tongue-in-cheek.
She came up with meanings that I did not find initially. I was stunned with how the author came up with such a book — such genius! So many hidden meanings, so many implied messages that are never explicitly spelt out. I never looked at a piece of fiction the same way ever again.
The Struggle to Find Meaning
Attemping to use this knowledge of analysing text, I picked up my old copy of The Three Investigators and started reading. I could not find anything! Was it me, or was it the author? Where were the hidden meanings? Where were the implied messages? How was this sentence connected with that one?
Fiction is hard work
Reading fiction just became too much hard work. I could not find things my literature teacher could find. I struggled. I gave up. It was my fault — perhaps I was simply not cut out to have the same great mind the author, or even my literature teacher, had.
But then again…
Regrettably, some people play the game too seriously; they are paid to read too much into things. All my life I have suffered the conflict between my love of literature and poetry and my profound allergy to most teachers of literature and “critics”. The French thinker and poet Paul Valery was surprised to listen to a commentary of his poems that found meanings that had until then escaped him (of course, it was pointed out to him that these were intended by his subconscious).
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness
…perhaps I am not alone.