I’ve dropped out. Reinvented Sunday. I’ve given myself permission to not read my e-mail, catch up on Facebook, converse with other writers on LinkedIn, or review in my head all of the things, including writing my blog, that I ought to be doing. I feel liberated, relaxed, utterly euphoric.
I dip into one magazine or book without obligation or goal—any bit of news that catches my attention, any travel destination that draws me, a bit of advice on cooking, dog training, stain removing, until I doze in my chair or my housemate rouses me to take the dogs for a walk. Once sufficiently relaxed, I pick up whatever novel I’ve been reading at bedtime. Since when has reading novels become a guilty pleasure reserved for those few moments between the day and sleep? I don’t know, but I do know that’s a habit that does great injustice to the experience of the novel. A novel is meant to be experienced, not nibbled at.
So drop out and drop into a story. As William Deresiewicz says, “… feel what it’s like to inhabit a character’s mind.” (Atlantic Monthly, June 2014, p.94). Resurrect that time in your life when you became Mary Poppins, Alice, Pooh, or Batman and in that experience discovered your own fears and longings. Give yourself the gift of time, that rarest of commodities in American life. For, as Deresiewicz says, “The novel allows you the freedom to pause, to savor a phrase, contemplate a meaning, daydream about an image, absorb the impact of a revelation—make the experience uniquely your own.”(p. 94)
Like most authors, I write what I read—stories of characters caught up in the crises of our times. Novels set in other times draw me also because they give perspective on today, but creating characters who confront the monumental changes of Twentieth and Twenty-First Century of American life “bring both self and world into focus,” as Deresiewicz says (p.93). They give the American experience from the inside—what it feels like to live it.
Novels by international authors, such as Hosseini and Achebe, give me the experience of living other cultures from the inside, fascinating in their own right and an experience that gives me perspective on our own culture. I return changed; the realities and demands of my own culture and even my identity itself become less universal, more a product of time and place.
I feel as though I’ve discovered a lost art, for reading was central to my growing up. The demands of the technological age are so incessant and all-encompassing, they leave little room for thought. We are pack animals, and the compulsion to stay “up to date” busy interacting regardless, reflects our need to be part of the flow, our fear of dropping out, of isolation. But take it from me, reading of other lives reduces our sense of isolation, joins us to other lives on a more intimate level. And it gives distance on the compulsions that drive our lives. If, from your easy chair, you’d like a view of lives caught up in technology, try Laurie Frankel’s Goodbye For Now. I promise a review in my next blog.