We all know about the magic of books; escapism, exploration, education, enlightenment. They’ve always been an unintended escape for me [I don’t read to escape reality], but I have recently realised the real magic, for me, in escaping to these imagined little literary worlds of delights. It is the idea that we share the experiences of this other worldliness that we escape to in literature with everyone whose read the same book.
Let me explain to you what I mean. Have you caught yourself reading a book, getting lost in its pages, and then felt an abrupt return to reality?
I’m sitting, let’s imagine, in bed. I have a book in my hands and surrounding me are my four white walls and white sliding French doors, one to my right taking you outside and the other to my left leading you into my wardrobe. There are dried out roses on a dark wooden bed side table, and a white wooden stand-up mirror over there in the corner, and I’m under my grey and white printed duvet with a grey cover covering my toes to add that extra layer of warmth to this cold night.
Just look at me sitting there sunk deep into the squishiness of my square pillow aimlessly staring at the streams of words upon this page – I am physically there don’t you see? But a man straddling a horse and aiming his sword are galloping by me on this mountain where King Arthur stands with some angry Saxons. I have no idea what book I’m describing, I’ve never read anything on King Arthur, actually.
That kind of genre’s not my cup of tea. As I stare at the pages of the book I’m likely to be holding, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert let’s imagine, being the book Jeremy profoundly introduced me to, I have been pulled into Elizabeth’s pages with her characters and I act as though I have the privilege of an omniscient narrator. As Juno Dawson, the reigning Queen of Teen fiction, said on World Book Day:
Reading is a first class ticket to the outer limits of your imagination. I’ve been to Maupin’s San Francisco, Lyra’s Oxford, Panem and Hogwarts, all without leaving my bedroom. I’ve travelled back in time to Manderley in the 1920s and far into the dystopian future of, erm, 1984. Reading can take you anywhere in space and time if you’re willing to go.
I often become so engrossed with a books plot that what’s in my peripheral disappears and all I see before me are the scenes as they unfold chapter after chapter. I become entranced in this imaginary world that has been created by Elizabeth Gilbert. [This is probably what scared those Victorian men about women reading; their imagination is free to run uncontrollably wild]. I can see the poet Gilbert is describing running through the fields towards her cottage trying to capture the idea she’s just had on paper before, she believes, the idea will abandon her and find someone else.
The poet in my head is running in her blue and white fly away dress [I see the dress from The Sound of Music when she’s up on the hill singing in my head] with a couple of wooden pegs in her hand that she’d been using to put the washing out. The suns out, the fields are golden behind her, she’s smiling with excitement, and there is a light blustery blow to her hair as she leaps with a spring in her step to her front door.
Now, the world that you imagine would of course be different, but, nonetheless, we’ve been a part of that literary creation of a world together and know what that world is like. This is now when you and I would be able to talk about this book and share our interpretation of this worldly otherness. How exciting.
It’s that disruptive interruption of “i’m turning the light off now and you need to go to sleep” or that harsh pillow to the face when you’re clearly not listening that snaps you suddenly out of this imagined world and back to the four white walls of your bedroom. It’s such a wonderful feeling when you realise you reached that stage of escape and your imagination has had this feeling of freedom frolicking around in someone else’s literary world.
Having had similar discussions with Jeremy about this, I know he could visualise the contents of a novel so strongly that he was able to escape to these imagined literary worlds as well, particularly Big Magic. This is just one of those things I could say out loud to him knowing he wouldn’t think I was mad.
It is, for me, a reassuring, calming and comforting thought to think that even though Jeremy’s gone, I can revisit the imagined places he’s been in every book he ever read.
At the book club, we managed to remember 21 books we read as a group. We had a diverse taste, and as Sarah pointed out, Jeremy chose the hardest book to read, Moby Dick, and the easiest, Of Mice and Men. His eclectic taste can be enjoyed by everyone.
I would also like to that this opportunity to thank everyone for your kind words and messages last week. It was lovely to connect with his best friend, family and his girlfriend, who I am sure I’ve found a friend in.