Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Worlds within books

I believe in the power of books.  Books are truly magical things!  Not only do they create a form of immortality (much like music, the author echoes forward through time, kept alive by everyone who reads their words), but they literally create worlds.

Whether it is a fiction or non-fiction book, the author is still infusing their words with their beliefs.  You can read many non-fiction books on the same subject, and walk away with a feel for each of the authors.  The same facts take on different feelings, based on how they are presented, and even the voice in which they are written.

This is both utterly brilliant and a little bit dangerous.  We tend to treat the written word, especially when it is presented as non-fiction, as Fact (with a big F...kind of like Truth).  We don't always acknowledge how much shading an author can put on facts, even when they are doing their best to be impartial.

But worse, many authors present their opinions as fact, or take the facts that they know and deliberately word them in such a way that they support the authors viewpoint.  I think these kind of books still have value, but we, as readers, need to stay aware of the power of an author's voice, so that we can see where it is leading us and make our own observations about what is...and what isn't.

With fiction, the message can be even more subtle and devious.  Because we read fiction as make-believe, we often ignore the themes in the book, focusing on the story and dismissing bits that we would have protested in a non-fiction book...because it's not real, right? 

It's good to stop and think about the themes in books, especially fiction books.  I don't feel like we should stop reading books with troublesome themes, in fact rather the opposite.  I think that books that explore problem issues, either by making them something the characters in the book are fighting against, or by creating a world where they are normal, gives us different perspectives about the topic.  Sometimes we need to see things taken to an extreme in order to really understand how problematic they are.

Another great feature of fiction books is they allow you to step into someone else's shoes.  The characters in the book share their point of view with you, and through their eyes you might see what it's like to be a different gender, race, culture, nationality, socioeconomic status, or any number of things.  We naturally connect with characters in books, and it feels very different to go through experiences with a character in a book than it does to hear about a problem just being explained.

Books can be a safe way to experience things that we may be drawn to that would be dangerous (or impossible) otherwise.  From sword fighting to mountain climbing, we can live vicariously through reading, without the inherent risks involved.  In a similar vein, a great writer can create a visceral experience for us of things that we might not be able to afford.  The most expensive foods and drinks can be yours with the right words!

And this is where books become pure magic.  When we become invested in a book, we can loose ourselves and the world around us.  We get transported to this whole other world, and we become another person.  Much like with visualization, we experience what the character experiences, and a talented word smith can capture the essence of something so you really feel like you are there!

This is, of course, wonderful fun, but it can also be so much more!  If you feel helpless in a situation, you can read about a character who is in a similar situation, but has tools to fight back.  Sometimes, this is enough to get you through it, especially if it is something you have no control over.  But other times, this can actually cultivate the strength in you to change your own circumstances.  You might not use the same methods, but you can call upon the spirit of a character to make your own move.

If you were considering trying a new thing, but weren't sure you want to commit to it, you can read a book that lets you try it.  Perhaps there is a different path that you find interesting, but you aren't sure you really fit it.  You might find, through reading about it, that the parts you were unsure of have melted away...or you might discover that the things you thought would be amazing have aspects you hadn't considered.

Books can (and should!) be read for enjoyment.  I love reading all kinds of books, from really deep, heavy thinky books that I really have to be alert and in the right mood to read down to fun little fluff pieces that just make me happy and take no effort.  But just because we enjoy them doesn't mean that we can't also explore them in deeper ways.

Let yourself sink into the books you read.  When something is described, slow down and let it's image (or scent, or taste....) form within you.  Savor it, the way you savor your favorite treat.  When a character has an emotion, let it fill you.  It is quite common for me to cry while reading.  If you enjoy a book, no matter what kind of book, embrace it!  Don't let anyone else tell you that you are too old (or young, or whatever) to like that kind of book.

And when you put the book down, ruminate on it.  Let it's ideas swirl around in your mind.  Allow thoughts and reactions to bubble forth.  Perhaps you might like to journal about how it made you feel or what it made you think. 

Revisit your books.  It is amazing, no matter how many times I read a book (and I have books I've read a dozen times, and re-read about every year), I always come up with bits I don't remember, or things that mean something different to me now, because I've changed since the last time I read a book.

Let books be your therapy, your touchstones, your security blanket.  I have books I turn to when I'm in certain moods.  Sometimes I want a book that combats a mood...but other times I want one that compliments it.  I like to wallow in my moods, I like to surround myself with emotions.  I know which books to read when I need to feel certain things. 

Books are incredible, and there are so many ways to use them.  Challenge yourself to try new books, or to experience your favorite books in new ways.  See what you can uncover, in those huge worlds between the covers.  Because you never know where you'll end up, when you open a book!

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