The Chance to live a thousand lives
By Elizabeth Cutright
© 2012 The Daily Creative Writer
“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.” Ursula K. LeGuin
Ms. LeGuin, I couldn’t have said it better myself. When I hit my 30s and began rereading old childhood favorites, I was a bit shocked to discover just how much my beliefs, my aspirations, my philosophies and my personality have been impacted, shaped and inspired by the books I’ve read. Time is the integral ingredient to this realization; when we first finish a book we may be moved, but it’s not until later – sometimes much later – that we experience the effects of what we’ve read.
I’m loath to get into the Kindle vs. hard-copy debate, but I can’t deny that I’m staunchly in the “real book” camp (sorry eBook fans). Nevertheless, anything that encourages reading – a wine-soaked book club, an endorsement from Oprah, a bookish crush you want to impress – is golden in my book, even if that book comes in a PDF format.
And thanks to some good news I happened upon today – Barnes and Nobles seems to be on the mend – I am hopeful that reports of the impending death of bookstores, and the books they house, have been greatly exaggerated. And while the Nook and Fifty Shades of Gray were both partly responsible for the staunching of revenue losses, Barnes and Noble still maintains plenty of brick-and-mortar locations throughout the country.
In my hometown, both Barnes and Noble and Borders fell to the ax of the lagging economy (and both have been replaced with discount clothing stores, which, while I don’t want to alarm you, is most certainly some sort of sign of the apocalypse), but our favorite mom-and-pop stores seem to have survived. In fact, just last week, I paid two trips to the bookstore, once to stock up on some pulpy thrillers and once to visit my favorite used bookstore in town to browse the shelves and uncover some hidden gems.
“Visiting a secondhand bookstore can trigger a religious experience,” says Sarah Ban Breathnach in her book Simple Abundance. “The dog-eared, gilded paged, embossed, and foxed with age receive me with the knowing arms of an old flame.”
Our local used bookstore – The Book Den – the oldest in California, and I can’t tell you how many times a quick check in to browse the shelves has resulted in the discovery of new authors or clued me into the delights of previously ignored genres. I discovered Donna Tartt at the Book Den…and Laura Lippman…and Tana French…and Carol Goodman, who basically got me through all of the 2009 recession. After reading The Lake of Dead Languages, I ended up not only buying every one of her books I could get my hands on (both new and used, in the store and through Amazon when all else failed), but I have lent her books out to countless friends who ended up becoming fervent fans. Carol led me to thrillers, and now I know how to get an easy fix when I’m in the mood for juicy plot twists. And forget all the hype about Fifty Shades of Gray (and before that, Twilight), it’s thrillers and suspense novels where female authors are really starting to shine.
As I said earlier (repeating words of wisdom spouted many times before by people much, much smarter than me), we are a product of what we read. The characters we live and grow up with shape us. I suspect my desire to become a writer stems from an early exposure to Anne of Green Gables. Surely my love of horses can be traced back to multiple readings of Black Beauty and The Black Stallion. And I still hope for the kind of inclusive, multicultural future I first got a peek at while reading sci-fi and fantasy during my formative years.
It’s easy to abandon books as we get older. Blogs are easier, newspapers and magazines can keep you up to date, television and movies can satisfy the need for narrative. But nothing can match the transcendent nature of getting caught up in a really good book. When you dive into those pages, you transport yourself to another world.
So make a commitment to start a book this week. Pick up an old favorite, or try out something new. Find a bookstore in your town if you can. The library’s always a good place to start. But believe me, as Sarah Ban Breathnach says, “books are as essential as breathing.”
If nothing else, think of it as an opportunity to take a vacation from your own life and try on someone else’s for size.
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