Reading – involve yourself, involve others
There are some books that are ageless, timeless and simply too good to put down. Then there are some that are too long, too short and too boring. Fiction books are always a bit of a gamble – but a worthy gamble. Sometimes you are so drawn into the narrative that you reach the point where you go beyond empathising with characters and start feeling like you are one of the characters.
A great story can move you in many ways, but the joy of reading lies in the fact that while it is a lone experience at first, it can be shared. When I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time, I built that world in my mind. But when I spoke with others about the plot, the characters and how I envisioned Middle Earth, it challenged me and sparked greater curiosity about how others felt, how they imagined the worlds, characters and events. To go meta for a moment, even as you read this now, you are remembering your own memories and thinking about the book (even if you have or haven’t read it).
The power of a good book, then, lies not necessarily in the quality of writing, plot or characters; rather in its ability to connect people with other people. Sometimes this can be as simple as a shared chuckle or in-joke, other times a friendship that can evolve through this common interest. However, there are times when a work of fiction can have an altogether more important purpose. For example, the works of Charles Dickens highlighted the terrible conditions in which children worked in the 19th century. Works like A Tale of Two Cities and Oliver Twist illustrated the injustices at the heart of British life, through works of fiction. Anyone who read those works had their attention drawn to the inequities of British society, and thoughts turned to ameliorate these conditions. This, arguably, meant that people reading and discussing a work of fiction could have practical applications for the ‘real’ world. The same could be said about the writing of Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde or even more contemporary authors like the late Bryce Courtney or Kurt Vonnegut.
Even in our internet age, where literature can be freely shared and at times incredibly vacuous, the allure of ink and paper is still present. Not only can a book connect you to others, it can help you connect the greater world outside of your own. So, why not join a book club, start a reading group, or simply chat to someone randomly about a book you’ve just read? (Within reason; I don’t advise running up to someone on the street and ranting to them!)
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotations from legendary writer, the aforementioned Kurt Vonnegut:
“At the time of their invention, books were devices as crassly practical for storing or transmitting language, albeit fabricated from scarcely modified substances found in forest and field and animals, as the latest Silicon Valley miracles. But by accident, not by cunning calculation, books, because of their weight and texture, and because of their sweetly token resistance to manipulation, involve our hands and eyes, and then our minds and souls, in a spiritual adventure I would be very sorry for my grandchildren to not know about.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake, (1997), p. 157.