We all read because we have to–to bake a cake, to put together a bookcase, to pass a test. But why do so many of us become addicted to that other kind of reading–to stories? We became bookworms as children. As escape? To cure loneliness? Boredom? Because books took us on adventures in distant worlds? Harry Potter does all of these for both children and adults.
But I think Potter, Crusoe and Pooh give me far more than escape. In fact, quite the opposite. They touched and spoke to my own delights and agonies, showed me how to respond to bullies, made me laugh at adults I feared, and at myself. And, of course, they took me places I wasn’t allowed to go. I was raised in a city apartment long before Harry Potter flew across city smokestacks, but Mary Poppins served the same purpose—sent this city child sailing beyond the confines of the yard. Looking back, I can see that her schoolmarm appearance (bearing little resemblance to Julie Andrews) echoed my own strict parents. My mother was a parson’s daughter and took motherhood far too seriously to give much hint of the young rebel she’d once been. The Hollywood version of the flying nanny lost all sense of the surprising side of people that makes us laugh in delight, but my memory of the original brings back the hidden gaiety of my serious-minded parents.
I’m always looking for the right words to describe the power of the imagination to carry us outside the box, open a new view of the world, carry me deep beneath the surface of things. To say stories “teach” us or that we “learn” values there, associates reading with school or church and a kind of learning that has little to do with sailing off into dreamland. They say reading “broadens” the mind, but I certainly didn’t seek out my books to be preached at, nor did most of my schoolbooks fall apart from over-reading. In fact literature classes that analyzed stories too often took their life. It’s no accident that creative teachers use plays and role-playing to carry students into the story. These activities, like reading, fire the imagination.
As an author, I know my imagination has kicked in when characters take over the story, and I know if I try to take control back, I’ll break the spell and ruin it. There are countless ways to break the spell—details that are wrong, characters acting in ways that aren’t believable, language mistakes—the list goes on, but in virtually all of them, the author has intruded and bounced the reader out of the story.
What do you read? Why? What kinds of stories suck you in? What bounces you out, bores you, annoys you, makes you slam the book down and walk away. I invite you to sample a few of mine at http://www.judithkirscht.com/stories.html In future blogs, I’ll send you off to good reads and publish samples of my own, now and then, so you can let me know where I carry you off, when I bounce you out.