let’s talk about books

(Warning: this is a Very Long Post™)

Ah, reading. My old friend–well, sort of. You see, reading and I had a bit of a falling-out in high school. I read viciously from the time I was however old enough to read on my own, devouring books the way…no, never mind, the part of my brain that makes analogies is on vacation right now after having taken the MAT, so check back in a while.

The point is, I devoured books one right after another, greedier than the witch in the Hansel and Gretel fairytale, making it almost a personal challenge to see how many books I could handle reading at one time. I wove through throngs of schoolmates (or, typically, marched in a single-file line in elementary and middle school) with my nose stuck in whichever one of many books I had in my possession at the time, and I even got in trouble for reading books during classes a couple of times.

Then high school and the dreaded Required Reading – with capital R’s because it was HIGH SCHOOL (oh my gawd) – happened and, aside from the Harry Potter books which never took long, and the handful of required reading I actually thoroughly read and enjoyed, I didn’t really read much. And this is definitely one of those ‘hindsight is 20/20’ situations. The internet hasn’t helped much, either, with all the distractions it offers.  I wish I’d kept up with reading with the same excitement as before during these four years, because getting back into the habit of something, even if it’s something you love, is hard.

However, in college I began to repair my and reading’s relationship. I actually read the majority of the required reading assigned to me (the exceptions were only ever in English classes, which I don’t understand; maybe I just don’t like the idea of breaking down literature that finely; I still have yet to figure out this aspect of my personality because I can still talk someone’s ear off about character development and archetypes all damn day). I read a couple of books for fun during a few semesters – the one that sticks out the most is probably-unsurprisingly Vladimir Nabokov’s classic, Lolita – and I have many in progress that I started in college and just never got around to finishing. Yet. (Sorry especially to Kurt Vonnegut. You’re next, I promise.)

And even though I feel like I read more slowly these days (nothing has even come close to reading all 870 pages of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in twenty-two hours), that’s just not true. I read John Green’s Looking for Alaska in two days, his Paper Towns in one, Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire in eight hours, and the real question is, why did I EVER think I got slower at reading?

The only difference is now I choose books that might move at a slower pace than, say, Harry Potter, a book series rife with wildly imagined and vividly described magical worlds like you’ve never even dreamed–and those books of the former kind take longer. And that’s okay, because I’ll be honest with you, I don’t remember a significant chunk of Order of the Phoenix.  Sometimes you have to take your time to fully absorb everything, to get every last detail.  If I’m proofreading something for someone else I take my time so I’m sure to not miss a thing, and that’s probably for the best for everyone involved.

But no matter how much time has passed since I last picked up a book, the stark truth of reading always exists: there is nothing quite like getting lost in a fictional world, especially if it’s well-written and so vivid you have a perfect image of it in your mind that might, with added details over time, shift and change but hopefully always stay tucked away as a possible retreat into fiction, into somebody else’s problems for a while, or somebody else’s happy ending, or just to a white-towered city of fantasy. Middle-Earth has to be one of the coolest fictional places I’ve ever ‘been.’ I’m not sure I’ve ever felt complex emotions like those that constantly swirled around inside my mind during all of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

Movies are good for transporting the audience into an environment in an entirely different way than books; for me, writers have a way of dragging me down into the nitty-gritty of it all; for example, while the HP and the Sorcerer’s Stone film has a charming scene of his first visit to the hidden alley and shopping area where he will buy all his new wizarding supplies, replete with storefronts and strange-looking background characters that certainly live up to the book’s descriptions, I still feel like an outside observer. I’m not part of it.

But with books, I can almost feel the uneven cobblestone under my feet. I could feel the terrifying new-ness with which Harry experienced this new place, because I had never been there before. I can feel people breezing and jostling by. I mean, just read this quote from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and tell me you can’t smell the lilac and roses or hear the “sullen murmur of the bees”:

The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn. […] Now and then the fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long tussore-silk curtains that were stretched in front of the huge window, producing a kind of momentary Japanese effect, and making him think of those pallid, jade-faced painters of Tokyo who, through the medium of an art that is necessarily immobile, seek to convey the sense of swiftness and motion.

The sullen murmur of the bees shouldering their way through the long unmown grass, or circling with monotonous insistence round the dusty gilt horns of the straggling woodbine, seemed to make the stillness more oppressive. The dim roar of London was like the bourdon note of a distant organ.

But if you’re more of the movie kind, or you just don’t have time to read or don’t enjoy it or whatever, hey, that’s your thing. From experience, if you try to force yourself to read a book just to read it and not because you want to continue reading it, you won’t enjoy it. So do yourself a favor. Quit reading this way-too-long blog post and read something that’ll sweep you off your feet, or make you question everything, or make you cry your eyes out–or whatever you feel. Find something that speaks to you because when you do, you’ll always be able to go back to it to find yourself again.

“There are certain emotions in your body that not even your best friend can sympathize with, but you will find the right film or the right book, and it will understand you.” -Björk