Reading for me has always been a sort of magical experience. It is the sort of thing that sinks into you, can transport you to a different world. From the first book I read to the one I am reading now, the majority of my chosen literature drops me into a new universe by the time I am on the third page at the latest. I dived into all types of literature, from worlds full of sword and sorcery to quiet, frustrating British Regency literature written by great authors such as Jane Austen, Lord Byron, and John Keats. These rich novels range from fantastical to realistic representations of the world. Each book lead to new worlds, some lost to the dust of history and others never existed but in the wilds of an author’s imagination.
The fantastic author, J. R. R. Tolkien, opened a world of fantasy for me that never closed. When I was very young, I learned to read by reading fairytales. But as I grew older, those sort of stories- wonderful as they were- began to lose their shine and luster for my growing mind. They still were enjoyable, but their familiarity and simplicity of the storyline was feeling stale and not as vibrant as they were when I was small. But with Tolkien’s trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, the doors to an alternate universe with valiant warriors, mystical wizards, cunning hobbits, villainous villains, fiery dragons, and danger aplenty drew me in and held me with shimmering bonds of delight. Never will that delight fade, it just has grown to the point that my imagination builds the world the author describes and plays it in my head realistically.
Historical novels are another great love of mine, because they offer a glimpse into worlds long since turned to dust and ruins. Robert Harris is one author whose works I adore. He gives personable accounts through his characters, selecting the narrators to be not people of great stature, but those working close to or with grand schemes that held the world together at that point in time. His book about Cicero, the great orator of the Roman Republic, has his story told by his trusted slave and learned scribe, Tiro, in his two books, Imperium and Conspirata. It gives the reader an insight into the mind and workings of the great man, but not from his point of view. It both is intimate and distant at the same time. When I read those books, I feel transported to those days of pre-Imperial Rome, drawn into the machinations of the clever politicians and the raging thirst of ambition that Cicero, a man determined to rise to the power and status of consul. The writing is done is such a way to bring history alive. You might just feel like you are there, walking the crowded, hot streets of the ancient city, seeing it in its splendor before it turned to ruins and became a ghost, a shell, a tomb of relics.
Character development is a chief concern of mine when reading. If the characters feel flat or two-dimensional, I just cannot connect with the material, no matter how rich and intricate the descriptions of the world may be. Terry Goodkind is one popular fantasy author I have never been able to get interested. His plots are interesting, his world description is good, but his characters are too over-powered. They are the type that go through a hurricane of events without a hair out of place. That sort of god power in characters irritate me, because they lack realism. This also stands for those types of novels in which a main character is maimed and somehow either is unaffected by the physical handicap or, even worse, gets some magical replacement and they just continue on as if nothing happened. Having been gravely injured myself in an accident, I know for certain that you do not go through serious trauma without scars, mental at the very least, if not physical. I have few scars, some nerve damage, but what made the greatest impression was the memory of searing pain during the accident and the subsequent months, the combination boredom and pain at every movement, while being wheelchair or couch bound for months. I just cannot stomach or believe it when a character is gravely harmed and just recovers and moves on without some sort of change happen. Jim Butcher’s character, Harry, in the Dresden Files goes through an accident wherein his hand was badly burned, like my legs were, and his recovery period was realistic enough that I could believe it and still like the character for his preservation. There are scarred heroes that keep going, and it is those types of characters and even the ones that fall and do not get up that I connect to the most. Because life never leaves anyone unscathed, you never leave it without experience of some kind or another.
Learning to analyze and read books in a different life through the study of criticism and theory has definitely put a dent in my enthusiasm for reading. This is partially due to the type of person I am. Once I start getting into something, I cannot help but apply it to everything. It takes a while to either shut something I have learned off or push it to the side so I can concentrate without being distracted by analyzing something and losing my thread of storyline. It is the equivalent of pausing a movie every five seconds to think about what just happened, what it means, how it applies to the story, and a million other things. For example, I took a class in Etymology last winter semester. Ever since, whenever I come across interesting or difficult words, I try to parse them in my head. It is a compulsive thing that I can stop if I try, but it is like a knee jerk reaction. The same has gone for literary theory. Every piece I learn inevitably claws its way into even my personal reading, which ruins the suspension of disbelief required in order for me to really sink into a book. But the upside to this is it allows for a deeper reading of materials, even if my progress is slowing to a tortoise-like pace. I do like digging for meaning in literature, but I do wish that it would turn itself off once in a awhile and let me enjoy a novel without trying to figure out what it all “really means.”
P.S. The books I’m reading currently:
Rob Thurman, Slashback
Robert Harris, Pompeii
Glenda Larke, Stormlord’s Exile
Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear
C.E. Murphy, Urban Shaman
When those are done, there’s a always a thousand more to find. I still have at least a dozen novels on my list from book recommendations my Shakespeare professor gave last semester. I look forward to graduation so I can read outside of my lunch break at work once again.