Saturday, 22 September 2012

Sucked In

There are some books that just absorb you totally. You pick them up, fall into them and you can’t put them down.

Sometimes it’s the subject matter, sometimes it’s how they’ve been written, sometimes it’s the mood you’re in.

It can be a convergence of these elements.

Maybe a character or an event resonates with you.

This is a particular danger for me if I tear through a book in one sitting.

It can cause some very disorientating cognitive dissonance.

When I was a teenager, I curled up in an armchair one afternoon, my legs folded beneath me and read my way all the way through Wendy Orr’s Peeling The Onion.
Just as I was closing the book, the phone rang and I automatically leapt to my feet to go and answer it.
After wrapping myself so completely in a tale of serious injuries and a difficult rehabilitation, I was so amazed that I could actually walk that I almost forgot how and only just saved myself from face-planting.

There are a few books that have grabbed me like this.

At the end of each of the Lord of the Rings books I had to remind myself I wasn’t a hobbit.

At the end of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods I was relieved to find the fate of the world didn’t actually rest on my shoulders.

After Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns I was the most grateful I have ever been to find myself in a life where I am neither endangered or limited in my options by my gender.

As I finished up Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, I once again emerged with surprise into my own life.

I couldn’t identify with the challenges and the self-destructive behaviour that put her on her hike on the Pacific Crest Trail but once she was on it, I was sucked right in.

The exhaustion and fear and doubt and anger and wonder and moments of joy had me.

Even the moments of shocking honesty covering experiences that I didn’t connect with at all weren’t enough to shake me loose, they just drew me deeper into her story.
So when I turned that last page and found myself back in my home, I was surprised and pleased to find my feet were in good nick and I still had all of my toenails.

Like with some other absorbing books, I was also a little... not disappointed... but there's a sort of moment of sadness as you finish the book and step back.

While I don’t ever want to be in a car accident, have to oppose great evil, have to navigate a moral minefield, experience domestic violence and social repression, or lose a loved one or my sense of self so totally, I often envy the key characters the strength they’ve found and the challenges they’ve overcome.

Those victories weren’t without their suffering and loss but they are valuable.

With Wild, I envied Cheryl the sense of self-confidence and self-reliance she built over the course of her journey.
I know that following her trip she had plenty of other issues to work through, plenty of other things she had to achieve before she got to the place she is in now, the place she had to be in to write this book, but she’d already achieved so much.
She had somewhere to begin.

Books like these don’t just capture you for the duration of your reading experience, they also inspire you to look at your life, to try new things and sometimes just open your eyes to certain truths or possibilities.
They don’t come along at regular intervals but when these books turn up, they remind you what the real power of reading is and what it can do for you.

I hope everyone has the chance to experience this, to have their attention so thoroughly caught that disengaging at the end actually feels like a kind of surfacing.

If you have and feel like sharing, please let me know.
I’d love to see if your books can catch me up in the same way.
Even if they don't, just knowing that they've done that for someone else gives them a weight and power.

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