words | aamna haq

The following piece forms a discussion on the profound impact of reading stories.

The first time I went to a library is still a vivid memory: my mother grasped my first-grade fingers and led me through the titles before stopping at Cam Jansen, Henry and Mudge, and Frog and Toad. That was the start of my fanatical, vehemently one-sided love affair with stories.

I devoured the characters and their stories. Reading was dreaming and any sense of the outside world was lost. I completely zoned out until it was just me and the words. I embarked on the challenge of Harry Potter in the fifth grade, and absolutely bugged my parents to let me read the fourth book in the series. The situation was desperate, it was essential to know what happened next — what was Wormtail going to do?

I wasn’t allowed to read it.

It was bewildering, one of the most perplexing moments of my ten years. My parents balked at the size of the book and something seemed to click for them. What exactly was I reading?


The answer lies in the word ‘story’. Stories are read for entertainment; it’s a passive process. I simply read for fun — in all honesty, I wasn’t analyzing literary technique or the underlying theme. As a matter of fact, I was racing to the epilogue.

There was no active thought on my end — all I had to do was keep reading and the answers would emerge. I wasn’t discovering the intricacies of human nature; I was breathing in the words like they were oxygen, often flitting pages and skimming to reach the denouement.

A conflict was beginning to emerge. My parents’ wanted me on a strict diet of nonfiction and textbook academia, but I couldn’t help but be drawn back to fantasies and illusions. Traitorous thoughts lodged themselves in the back of my head — was I just wasting my time? The countless hours I spent flipping to the end of a story were filled with anticipation and excitement, but when I got to the end, my wonder and curiosity dissipated into nothingness.

The emotions I felt while the story built up...were they insignificant?

I’ve thoroughly contemplated this issue and have come to a point where I can say that it is a shame that I even considered that I was wasting time at all. Although I don’t actively read to find a specific meaning, I am not disregarding sensation and feeling. I am still absorbing and understanding a different kind of information.

When I’m reading, I indulge in humor; I become indignant; I get (lots of) secondhand embarrassment.

I feel.

It makes me human. Stories grant me ranges of emotion and I memorialize those sensations. If I don’t understand what the author intends or if I can’t tell the literary ‘significance’ of a scene, it hardly matters to me. I wasn’t made to solve others’ mysteries; I was made to solve mine.

So the next time I read a book just for fun, I understand to enjoy it for what it is. Simply a story.


photos | mahum kudia