exploring art and writing

Why Can’t I Stop Reading Books?

In Identity, Life on October 16, 2011 at 3:38 pm

'Woman Reading by Candlelight' by Peter Vilhelm Ilsted

A year ago I wrote a blog in which I asked myself the question ‘why can’t I read books?’ As with most people my life has meandered through an array of events and emotions since then, and I’m happy to confirm that I now have no trouble immersing myself in a novel. In fact, there are so many books sitting on my shelf, both read and waiting to be read, I occasionally wonder where I found the time to indulge myself in anything other than prose. Now I’m speculating about where I will find the time in the years ahead, not just to read but also to be active in other walks of life.

Thoughts of time are beginning to occur quite frequently in my head. Childhood seems to stretch itself out like a stalled train, painfully slow and impossible to depart from until you reach some tantalising and mysterious place. This place doesn’t really exist, of course, but I was convinced that it did. Being an adult doesn’t appear to be either tantalising or mysterious. Books, on the other hand, can be breathtaking, devastating, captivating and they are full of what we lack. As people were bustling about and performing their daily tasks this morning, it occurred to me that I am living other people’s stories, the stories of an authors protagonist, of their villain, their landscapes, their desires and motives. I don’t have a journey of my own.

This problem can no doubt be solved by finding a balance between fiction and life, by knowing when to read and when to walk out the front door and go somewhere. And the more I read the more my imp mutters into my ear: as your life goes on, words are meaningless and experience is everything. Surely there is more satisfaction and significance in having travelled the world, met an array of people and immersed yourself in a diversity of cultures than there is in having read an impressive handful of literature? My imp is also fond of reminding me that the great works, the monuments of the written word, are almost always the product of a life that is ‘worn in’; lives that have been tried, tested and verified.

These thoughts are provoked by my return to England and into education. The contrast between a city and a seaside town is palpable; the minute amount of time I have spent here has expanded and filled my head so that I feel as if I have been here for months on end. In reality I have lived here only fifteen days. The intense bouts of feverish reading, the endless cups of tea and the incorrigible musings over fictional characters have made me feel as if I am living in a hybrid land that I can’t yet fully comprehend. I live in Cornwall, but my mind is crossing the Texan plains; I sit in England, but my thoughts are in a French prison; I think of Scottish air and the café’s of a European city and yet I can’t name a street in this town but for the one I live on.

It’s time to regain my balance. Perhaps then my own words will become more than just shapes on a page. After all, it’s life that creates stories that are worth sharing.

'The Open Door' by Peter Vilhelm Ilsted


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