Novels for Thinking

“I’m just gonna read for thirty minutes, then I’ll fill out the form for the Chinese visa,” I told my dad as I pulled my copy of The Kite Runner closer to me and folded my legs, getting comfortable for a full immersion into the novel. Then I set my alarm to go off in thirty minutes and opened my book.

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When the alarm went off, my eyes never left the page as I turned it off. I was in too deep, but I didn’t want to leave. I faintly heard my dad tease me about what I said but I drowned him out with the moody music pounding in my ears and images flooding my mind: the war-torn Afghanistan, the orphans, Amir, Sohrab,  Soraya. In fact, I actually cried partway through the novel. My tears frustrated me, not because I was worried about being a softie, but because now the words were blurry and I couldn’t read on. I stopped momentarily to only wipe my tears and muster enough resolve to finish the book and push on, not just for myself but for the sake of the story. I had to know what happened. I had to hear all of it.

And so, two hours later, I turned page 371, expecting another chapter but instead reaching the Afterword. I did it. No, that wasn’t right:

Khaled Hosseini (the author) did it. And now I was a changed person. I, along with the many others whose lives became a bit bigger and whose hearts expanded a bit more after reading the story of the two Afghani boys.

When my dad saw that I finished, he asked me what the book was about. I opened my mouth to start explaining, but then stopped myself. A novel like The Kite Runner couldn’t, shouldn’t be summarized vocally. It had to be read and experienced by itself. And so that’s what I told my dad. “Read it yourself, then you’ll understand.”

It’s weird (sorry for lack of an adequate word) that I’m now reading these books, but weird in a good way. Or rather, weird in its original definition weird. Weird originally meant destiny, and perhaps that’s a better way to describe my present taste in literature. I used to just stick to young adult novels, books like the Percy Jackson series, the Maximum Ride series, the Mortal Instrument/Infernal Devices series. The series I listed were my favourites, and I still have fond memories of them. But now my tastes have changed, and for the better. Rather than reading books to escape to a dystopian world or some love triangle (a staple nowadays…), I read to learn and push myself. I read to make myself think, and think hard.

Ironically this all started with novels assigned from school. The first book that introduced me to the power of books was Slaughterhouse Five. But this book, though good, was also, well wonky and jumped time *literally* and confused me. Through all of its eccentricity, I still saw glimpses of brilliance, of sentences that would force me to stop and think, really think.

The first book that made an impact on me (and still does to this day) was, ironically, Frankenstein. I was scared to read the book when my teacher announced that it was required reading. But now it is one of my favorite novels. And from there, I pushed myself to read more challenging, different books. Over winter break, I read Escape from Camp 14, about Shin Dong-Hyuk, the only person who was raised from the North Korean prison camps who escaped. I also read Clay Walls, a book about a Korean family who immigrated to the States while Korea was still a Japanese colony.

And through it all, I realized the true power of books: the power to make people think. When I was younger, I read more as a form of escapism or entertainment. Now, I wasn’t in as much control over what the book did to me. It was flipped now; rather than me reading the book, the book read me…sort of. It’s hard to put into words. Before, I read and I knew what I would get when I finished my books. But now, when I read, I go into books expectant, waiting for what the author will throw at me, for whatever moral or lesson he wants to teach me. And especially with the Korean books and with The Kite Runner, I anticipate learning about a culture or history.

And these books truly give back to their readers, and usually more than the readers expect. Now after finishing The Kite Runner, another corner of the world has been illuminated for me, by a method far better than watching TV or reading the news. And more than just knowing more, my curiosity has also been triggered. I want to now know all the different types of people living in the Middle East. What was the history of the Hazara people? Why were they so strongly discriminated against? How are they connected to East Asia? What were the ties between East Asia and the Middle East? What is a Shi’a muslim and what is their history with other types of Muslims? What about those legends Amir and Hassan spoke of? Where can I read those for myself? And what exactly was the Afghanistan revolution? How are the Taliban all tied into this?

I never had all these questions when I finished The Clockwork Princess. Not to say that it was a bad book, but it had a different purpose, namely to tug at heartstrings and provide entertainment. But The Kite Runner and the other novels similar to it have left my mind even more invigorated than when I started. And I love it.

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