Wednesday, January 23, 2013

When books are more than just books

As I continue reading Lord of the Rings, I am getting further and further drawn into Middle Earth. My love for Sam Gamgee is growing very quickly, and I got chills while reading the stories told in the Counsel at Rivendell. Seriously--chills. I could think that I shouldn't have put off reading the book for so long, but on the other hand, I wonder if I needed to be where I am now to enjoy it as much as I am. It's been long enough since I've seen the movies that nothing from them is fresh in my mind (besides remembering Orlando Bloom as Legolas...), so I feel untainted as I read. I just came off reading another fantasy book that set me up for reading about lands unfamiliar to anyone but fans of the books, which prepped my brain for reading a lot of names of places that only exist on a hand-drawn map in an appendix. It also helped, I think, that I was ready to read a book that went into more detail about the fantastic journeys of the main character--if you remember from my last post, I mentioned that as one of the few things I didn't enjoy about A Wizard of Earthsea. I wanted more details from it, and Lord of the Rings gives me more detail about its story and characters. A lot more detail. So my brain and my book soul are happy.

It amazes me that we all have those books that we have to read at just the right time to really get the full impact of them. I have several books that sat on my shelves after buying them for a long time (or that sat on my books-to-read list for a long time), only to get picked up at just the right moment for me to enjoy them most. Books included in that category are Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier), The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (Aimee Bender), Garden Spells (Sarah Addison Allen), Lake of Dead Languages (Carol Goodman), The House at Riverton (Kate Morton), The Secret History (Donna Tartt), Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen), The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows), Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen), and The Inner Game of Stress (W. Timothy Gallwey)--among other great books. These--and others like them--are then the ones that I often talk about most and share most freely with friends. And yet they're often the ones that take me the longest to pick up.

I think that avid readers--or maybe it's just me--have a sort of book ESP. We know when we pick up a book or choose one from the store that it's going to change the game for us. Maybe the book is going to make us look at life differently or at other books differently. Maybe the book is that comforting friend we may need in a time of craziness. Maybe that book will serve as our private moment of escape when we need it most. Because of that special little bit of knowledge that largely remains unconscious, we avoid picking up the book until the right moment--whether it's a week or three years down the road. Then, when we do read it, it becomes a part of us. I can't look at some of the books on my shelves without being taken immediately to the feelings I had when first reading the book. I can't part with most of my books (even though books are heavy to move, and we seem to move a lot) because, to me, they are more than just books.

I also acknowledge here that I don't get that feeling about all books that end up becoming very special to me and were, in fact, impulse purchases that I read immediately after buying. The Help (Katheryn Stockett) and The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield) are examples of books like that. However, maybe that impulse is the same as the impulse I get to read a book I already own--maybe it's all connected.

I think people who read for the love of reading have a very special connection that non-readers just can't understand. That's why my husband can't figure out why I get miffed when I'm interrupted mid-chapter in a book that I've been buried in all day. That's why people don't always understand how hard it is for me to put down a book in the morning to start working on things that actually have to get done. Books feed my soul. And the really good books--the ones that touch me most--become a part of me. The characters cease to be words on pages and become role models, friends, stories of my own past.

That's some deep thought for a Wednesday morning... It's also completely different than what I had intended to write when I sat down to type a post. Funny how those things work.

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