Alive and Reading

The last six months or so have been downright hectic, so not much time to be frivolous and write about writing. However, I now finally have some space to breathe, time to reflect on what I’ve read over the past few months, and how it affected me.

Despite being extremely busy, I have been reading for pleasure quite a lot. Books have continued to do what they have always for me: provide a brief or longer escape from the real world. Over the past few months I have travelled through a wide variety of fictional universes: from Hawaii during WWII (From Here to Eternity) to Miami during the 1970s (most of Elmore Leonard’s oeuvre). What sets literature apart from, say, film, is its inability to be straightforwardly visual. Sure, graphic novels are an ever-expanding phenomenon, and rightly so, because they are ace. But more “traditional” novels and poems, for the lack of a better word, have nothing but words to offer. Whenever a writer succeeds to take me to a world I have never visited, and maybe never will, I’m surprised by how wonderful a medium literary fiction actually is.

And then there are the texts that ignore all the rules. I’m currently reading Jack Finney’s Time and Again, an illustrated novel about a man who travels from the 1970s to 19th century New York. The story is amazing in itself, but it’s also illustrated with intricate drawings, supposedly made by main character Simon. Simon is an artist who works for an advertising agency, and thus well-equipped to catch his experiences in drawings. The majority of his story, though, is told through words. Finney manages to take his humble readers to a New York that looks completely different from the New York we know today. I actually learned a lot from this novel, utterly unaware that I was of the fact that New York as we know it didn’t really exist before 1900.

I find it hard to tell whether reading as a hobby is dying out. Surely the publishing sector seems to be doing fine, and bestseller lists are rolling on as ever. But I rarely see people reading books on public transport these days (though that may be because I tend to read myself, and cannot be bothered to look up from whatever story I happen to be looking at). Instead everyone is reading different things: Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, Whatsapp messages. I don’t want to sound like a dinosaur and moan about the good old days. After all, one could argue that all these bits of information that exist only on screens are just stories in a different form. But if I ever have children (though I probably shouldn’t) I do hope I they get to know the experience of being truly lost in a good book, travelling without every leaving your cosy chair, and expanding your view well beyond what you know.

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