In Defiance of Gravity
I have never been a completely comfortable flyer. In airplanes, that is. Plain and simple, it scares the holy be-jesus out of me and over the years I’ve employed all kinds of strategies to endure it; strategies the right side of my brain believes work. Strategies of which the left side of my brain isn’t convinced. I surround the plane in white light, I focus on the faces of my loved ones, I count to 60 five times, I watch the attendants for signs of fear. Minimally, these rituals supply enough focus to relief me from thoughts I find so terrifying. I’m still pretty sure that Erica Jong had it correct in Fear of Flying when she says, and I paraphrase, that it’s only due to the collective will of everyone on board that the airplane remains aloft.
What does this have to do with engaged reading; that surreal moment where I leave behind my everyday world and enter the world of story? Well, there is that moment just minutes after the plane lifts off the ground—engines screaming, G-forces pressing, collective thoughts ranging from “Yee-Haw” to “Heaven help us”—where this column of metal miraculously breaks free from gravity’s insistent pull and sails heavenward into a world quite unlike the one from which it originates. And turning back? Well, it’s possible, but unlikely. Only an event quite out of the ordinary could deter the projectile with its precious cargo from continuing upon its planned course toward its final destination.
And so it is with reading a good book. There is that elusive, intangible moment where I lift off, break free and leave behind the gravity of life’s trivialities and crises, joys, sorrows and worries. I become a tourist, traveling aboard my private imagination. I am weightless and fearlessly committed to the destination. So, what happens in that instant where I pass through the barrier of realities? I’m not sure and this is what I have been thinking about.
I’m fairly certain the answer will give me information about myself. I’m also fairly certain the answer is not static. Readers aren’t static. They are in a constant state of becoming. They break habits, they form new ones, they take up running, they stop wearing Birkenstocks, they eat meat or don’t eat meat, they fly or don’t fly. We discover layers of ourselves, layers that may have always been there, buried under of years of opinions, dictums, orders, and rules. As we change our tastes change and therefore, I’m fairly certain that “taste” by itself is not a reliable way to explain the phenomena of being “hooked” by a book.
Is it the characters in the story that hook me? Do I have secret fantasy to live the life of a forensic anthropologist or bounty hunter in the fast lane? Probably. Do I prefer flashy cars like Range Rovers and Porsches over my Prius and Westfalia? Maybe. Would I rather be eating hamburgers and fries instead of brown rice and veggies? Sounds good. Are these characters and their embellishments so estranged from my day to day life that they provide an escape like no other? They absolutely do. The experiences gained by reading a story of a lifestyle far-removed from my own is valued and health-giving. As stated in Children’s Literature, Briefly, “The rewards of reading can also be viewed through the lens of bibliotherapy. In its broadest definition, bibliotherapy is any kind of emotional healing that comes from reading books.”
But it’s not just stories with “fast-lane” characters that hook and since it is more than just taste, there must be a relationship to the story. At some level, the story must become personal. Perhaps it is found in the tone and texture of the words, how they’re lined up, put together, and sequenced to produce a meaning that illuminates a dark corner in the soul of the reader. When they touch or vibrate that unknown part...unknown until it happens…a relationship, private and sacred, is forged. It might occur within the first chapter, or page, or line.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee hooked me in the second paragraph, “...the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out.” Immediately, I’m in and every turned page is propelling the “Scout” in me closer and closer to meeting Boo Radley. In My Antonia, Willa Cather creates the moment as she is describing Nebraska, my birth place, as seen through “Jim’s” eyes, “There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but that material out of which countries are made.” The connection created between this book and me is founded in my love for the Great Plains and my Bohemian heritage. These connections transcend taste, a sense-bound condition. It becomes very personal very quickly.
The quality in literature that
reaches, captures, captivates, and holds one rapt is sense-free and elusive. It
is ever changing and becoming. It is mysterious, intangible and inaudible. It
transcends the earthy and lifts us out and beyond the confines of our known
world. And therein lies the allure and magic of reading, the unknown journey...
until the turning of the next page.
Cather, Willa. My Antonia. Boston: Houghton Milton Company, 1977. Print.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. London: Pan Books, Ltd., 1974. Print.
Tunnel, Michael O., and James S. Jacobs. Children’s Literature, Briefly. New Jersey and Ohio: Pearson and Merrill Prentice Hall., 2008. Print.