This I believe.
I believe in reading books. I loved to pick up a good book, curl up in my bed and read for hours. My mom rolls her eyes when she finds me home on a Friday night and I am lost in pages of a thriller. My brothers think I’m weird when I bring a book to the dinner table on a Wednesday night reading My Sister’s Keeper between forkfuls of chicken.
My life is boring. And that is why I read so much. I live vicariously through each of the characters, good or bad, in the books I read. I’m fascinated by stories on drugs, diseases, mental illnesses, hardships and the unimaginable because I don’t face anything like these in my own life. Books make me wonder, What if? For instance, Ellen Hopkins, one of my favorite authors, writes fiction based on the real life experiences of her daughter, who is addicted to methamphetamines. What if I were that daughter’s mother? Or even worse… what if I were the daughter? What choices would I make?
As I read a novel, the characters and I connect. It’s like that medical condition, where sometimes twins are so close they can feel each other’s pain. The same thing happens when I connect with a character. I cry for the character, feel similar emotions. At the end of A Thousand Splendid Suns, I cried when a character read a letter from her dead father. One time, I was reading Angels and Demons. Robert Langdon was trapped in a library, and the air supply was getting smaller and smaller. I actually stopped breathing. When reading Handle with Care, my thoughts start to sound like the narrator’s and my life is suddenly governed by Amelia’s narrative voice.
I am constantly searching for my next book. And when I find the next great read, it consumes me entirely. I have found literary enlightenment because books become part of me. And sometimes I get so entranced that I become oblivious to everyone else.
Turning the pages becomes my only activity. And only when the book is completed, the heavy trance lifted.
Relating to characters is the medium that transports me into this trance-like state. I may think that some characters are unreachable; I am nothing like them. But even the characters who murder, steal, shoot up drugs, make themselves throw up— I can relate to them all in some way. The more difficult a character is to relate to; the more interesting it is for me to find that connection. By the end of the book, I may find an inhuman character suddenly humanized or find pity with a conartist. This manipulation of my feelings or views by the author is one of the facets of reading I like best. My reading experience is enhanced when the author changes my initial assumptions about the storyline.
Atticus Finch reminds us, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Reading a book is like climbing into the skins of characters in the story. I understand their emotions and inner torments, I can see why they mak’e the choices they do. Best of all, I can see the consequences of their actions and the results of their decisions. The novels that I read provide advice, warning and commentary that help shape my outlook on the world and the choices I make in my own life. The greatest benefit of reading is learning wisdom without personally having to suffer to find that wisdom.