Saturday, November 21, 2009

Why I read, I think....

Twilight booksImage by Annafur via Flickr

I have a friend who desperately wants me to read the novel Twilight. And I am desperately resisting. The book is about a teenage girl that falls in love with a vampire. I know that some of my readers who are fans of the series (you know who you are!) will tell me that it is about much more than that, but for the sake of this post we will leave it there. When my friend asked me why I didn’t want to read it I peevishly answered, “I don’t have time for Harlequin romances with vampires.” This wasn’t my highest self speaking, but truth be told, I’ve been having a hard time expressing the more exact reason why I do not read this book. Here are some of the possibilities:

(1) I’m afraid that I might like it. (2) I’m a complete and total book snob. (3) I don’t have time for books like this. (4) I don’t do escapism. (5) I want the books I read to “matter”, whatever that might mean.

There is probably a nugget of truth in each one of those reasons, some much more than others, but the last one comes closest to hitting the nail on the head.

We all read for different reasons at different times, simple entertainment, information, distraction, escape (the “Calgon take me away!” commercial is popping into my head), the enjoyment of books and words. But for me, whether I am perusing the shelves at the bookstore or library, reading the reviews of books at the back of my various magazines and journals, asking friends what they are reading, or voting for our next book club pick, I am looking for a book that will change me. Change might come about from being exposed to new ideas or new information, but also simply from being in the presence of the beauty and grace that I find in great writing. I’m not saying that this desire is better or worse or higher or lower than any other reason for reading a book. It’s just true for me at this stage of my life and I want to attend to it.

When I choose a new book, it is because, on some level, I am always hoping that it will contain both Truth and Beauty. Now, don’t worry. I am not going to try to tell you what Truth (note the capital “T”) means on the global or cosmic scale, and certainly not on the level of the personal because of course, I have no idea. I can only know my own Truth, once in a while. But in those moments when I really experience Truth, I feel it physically, in my body. Sometimes it manifests just as a prick behind my eyes, sometimes as running rivers of tears, but most often it is just some sort of small shift within me, a recognition of being in the presence of something that I already know, of coming home to the right place.

What do you hope for when you pick up a book? How do you know your own truth?

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Anonymous said...

I pick books out with the hope that they will swallow me up. I want to be completely and totally pulled into the tale and become one with a character. I want to laugh, cry, celebrate and experieince with them. I LOVED the twilight series. It made me do all of the above. But, i would never in a million years think to recommend this book series. Not to you or anyone. my sister nearly jumped through the phone scolding me for not telling her about them after she began reading them. It's a fantastic story but it will not change your life....made mine happier for a wee bit of time but that is not the same thing.

I read for enjoyment and i want it to feel like an escape...just the word you used to describe what you don't want. the last thing i need in my life is a book that makes me feel like i am working.

i am not a book snob...but I do have a hard time finding books that i enjoy. It takes a lot to completely suck me in. to make me turn off the world around me. but when I do....I devour it!

Rebecca Johnson said...

I realized while I was writing this that you, the biggest Twilight fan that I know, never encouraged me to read it. I realize that I almost never tell people, "You have to read this book" and it sounds like you don't either. I wonder why? I think that partly it's because they won't find it as wonderful and amazing as I do.

I used to think that all books, all stories have the capacity to change your life, at least in some small way. Now, I don't think so.

I think that maybe the last time that I had an experience like you describe above, was with the Harry Potter series. There was a lot of Truth in that story, particularly in the redemption of Snape, Dumbledore's choice to sacrifice himself instead of hurting someone else, and also the fact that Voldemort was unredeemable.

I think that I am definitely a book snob. I don't consider it a virtue, and I may be missing out on a lot of fun. : )


The Pollinatrix said...

Fun is important. Doing silly things that have no apparent value loosens us up from the Very Important Things we attach ourselves to. I'm thinking of The Little Prince all of a sudden, how "grown-up" and serious we become.

But I'm the same way, Rebecca. I have not and will not read the Twilight series, for a number of reasons, but the primary one is that I don't have time for stuff that isn't meaninful to me. There is a huge stack of books in my house that I'm way more interested in and may never be able to get through because I don't find a lot of time to read these days.

I do resonate, though, with what Nichol said. I read non-fiction for the reasons you mention, Rebecca, but when I read fiction, it's for Nichol's reasons. I hardly ever read fiction anymore, though. I've become terribly picky about it. It has to really grab me right from the beginning, or I don't give it the time.

But what does grab me is not necessarily Great Literature. One of my favorite book series is The Dragonriders of Pern series, which is about as fluffy as you can get. I like good fluff, in movies too. There are certain fluffy comfort movies that I watch over and over again, like Overboard, and Legally Blonde. I do need to escape sometimes. But even fluff has to have something meaningful and redemptive to it, or I don't care.

Steve said...

All I want from a book is for it to come alive. I want to be able to picture every location and see the characters move and breathe. I want to think about the book for days after I get done reading it. I really know it's a good book when I don't want to read the last chapter, because that means it's over.

Roy said...

Maybe not all the books in the world will or can change one person's life, but there's a book for each person with the capacity to change one's life. Maybe Twilight provided the environment for 2 people to finally see the Beauty and Truth in each other. So I propose that all books have the capacity to change lives... in the right time and space.

And you, dear friend, is one of my most favorite books to read.

Barbara said...

I am rather like you, Rebecca. I have a stockpile of such books at home. I rarely read novels -- I could count on the fingers of one hand the novels I have read in the last ten years. I am currently reading an autobiography, In Due Season by Paul Wilkes because it is Mertonesque and we come from a similar place. I find echoes of my own idealism and struggles in his life. I look for books (and movies, for that matter) that bring me to another level spiritually and, as you put it, change me through exposure to Truth and Beauty. I feel that resonance with Truth in tears and a bottom-of-the-gut sensation.

lucy said...

what a delightful conversation. i have found "truth" in each comment made (including the original author). i find that books really meet me in many different ways. i just finished the third book in the twilight series. i, too, would not ever say to someone "you must read this." i'm not even sure why i did, but i know for a little while it carried me away into a fantasy land and that was exactly what i needed. it allowed me to rest and restore and not think so much which in turn helped me continue to grow.

i, too, love books that "mean" something and choose not to subssist on a pure diet of fluff any more than brain twisters 24/7 will keep me nourished or content. why do i read? because i MUST!

so many books... so little time!

thanks for this. x0x0x0

Rebecca Johnson said...

Thank you all so much for all of your comments. When you take the time to respond to me, it not only reminds me that there are, indeed, people out there reading, but it also helps me think in bigger ways. I feel a spaciousness in my thinking.

Polli, thank you for reminding me that there is "good fluff" out there. Does Harry Potter count? I personally don't think that Harry is fluff though.

Steve, I hate to rat myself out, but I'm one of those people that goes and reads the last chapter about 3/4 way through the book. It's awful! I get so wound up about what is going to happen that I can't enjoy the book. It is such a gift to find authors who can create a place so perfectly that we can actually feel like we are living it a bit ourselves.

Roy, yes, someone will find truth and beauty in almost (I can't help putting that in there) book that will be written.

Barbara, I so identify with your use of books and movies to help you spiritually. I find them to be my great teachers. Though I read more novels than it sounds like you do, I am often disappointed in them.

And Lucy, I think that you sum something up for all of us. We read because we HAVE TO!! We love books!

Beth Knight said...

Rebecca - you speak my truth and say it well. However, when I fly sometimes I like to do a bit more fun reading so I will look at magazines that I don't normally let into my world. Or :) I will peruse a Skymall and wonder if there is anything I can't live without. But, like you ... I read to deepen who I am called to be and choose my books discerningly. And like Roy said... you are turning out one of my favorites to read ! Peace - bk