Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On Reading & The Art Of Living Vicariously

One of the things I regret the most is that I cannot remember the first book I consciously read. I recall a lot of the books I read as a child, including the abridged Shakespeare plays and dreary Charles Dickens novels. The one I seem to remember most fondly is the massive book of scientific experiments and trivia, including some of history's grandest mishaps. Memories of this book still swim fondly through my consciousness, even though I've lost it a long time ago. I'm even often reminded of it by my parents, telling me how I used to spend hours reading the damn thing, even if I didn't understand half of what it included.

Strangely, most of my high school and early undergraduate years were marred by a deplorably reduced rate of reading; I read maybe a book or two every year, and to this day I cannot quite place the reason for such behavior; perhaps it was the immense pressure such years entailed in terms of workload, perhaps I'd lost contact with the 'Me' who found reading copiously interesting and entertaining...or maybe it was just dumb luck. I cannot place it, but I know it's there.

Graduate studies seemed to propel my book addiction back into overdrive, strengthened by the massive bouts of boredom I suffered at the time (which in retrospect clarify how badly I messed up during those few months, but perhaps that's a tale for a different post). I was suddenly devouring books again, and the feeling was inimitable. To this day, I still look at the veritable towers of books that I haven't touched yet, and the thought itself fills me with unmitigated glee.

Books have existed for a very long time, much like music, and while I'd be hard-pressed to pick a favorite, I cannot overemphasize how important such literary existences are for me. Yes, I do realize that my favoritism towards fiction, and particular flavors of fiction at that might be a bit limited, but I am of the opinion that fiction easily paves the way for one to appreciate all sorts of writing.

We read books for all sorts of reasons, but perhaps the most prominent of those are information and escapism. The first is easy to explain; books contain information about all sorts of issues; scientific, political, theological, cultural, etc. If you wanted information, you sought the appropriate book. Sure, the Internet has long since diminished that role, and even the argument that one cannot take the Internet with him everywhere has been diligently wiped away. But still, if suddenly lost the Internet - a prospect that must've caused a few of you to shudder - we'd still have books. A relief, right?

and we also read for escapism, for the brief moments when we forget about life's worries and lose ourselves in the world so deftly woven by an author or a wordsmith. We watch them overcome adversity and triumph over obstacles we'd never come to face, but the danger and the worry is real and fresh, and you cannot help but want to be there with those poor souls, those weary protagonists.

But, aren't we already there? In the act of reading and living these experiences, we might as well be facing evil alongside our favorite characters. I've lived vicariously through all sorts of books; I've accompanied Frodo and Sam on their journey to Mount Doom, I've fought alongside Aragorn and listened to Theoden's speech in the Pelennor Fields. I've seen Russian magicians and wizards and werewolves, and saw them traverse the twilit ways unknown to mere mortals, I've cheered the Horde on, and marveled at the alien nobility of the Protoss. I've laughed at Arthur Dent's foolishness, and shared his longing for Fenchurch.

And I, though I'll die before you see me utter those words in real life, have always wished I was Harry Potter's bookish (and slightly brilliant) friend.

We might have each been born with a single soul, but we now have infinite worlds within us, constructed simply out of a little bit of imagination...

...and a whole lot of paper.

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