In a good book, I see myself.
December 26, 2011 § 2 Comments
From a young age, I read anything and everything, though I did have my favorites that I would reread a hundred times. I went through a strictly Beverly Cleary phase, then Roald Dahl. During lonely nights at home or when my best friend fell asleep at a sleepover, I pulled out the comfort of Matilda or Ramona, Age 8. I read so often it drove my parents crazy. “For goodness sake, put DOWN that book!” my mother would cry out in exasperation as I dragged myself to dinner, eyes locked on the page.
Now that I’m on winter break, I’m taking advantage of the extra time and filling it with reading. Unfortunately, I often go long periods without looking at a single book. Like many people of my generation, I can fall victim to the instant gratification of the web. I sit down at my computer and before I know it I’ve been on StumbleUpon for three hours and I don’t know where the time has gone and why I can’t pull myself away. I don’t discount what the internet has to offer; without the wonders of modern technology, I wouldn’t be sharing my thoughts with you via blog post right now. But a lot of the time I realize another day has gone by and I have nothing to show for it. My brain is fuzzy and aching after staring at the screen all day and I feel thoroughly unsatisfied.
But when I sit down and force myself to read, I remember how much I love getting sucked in to that other world, a world that may not exist in any sort of physical reality but is nevertheless still startlingly real. In a good book, I see some aspect of my life or person explained. I get the feeling I’m not alone. In a good book, I see myself. And that is what glues me to the page, what might as well make my mother a million miles away when she’s yelling at me to unload the dishwasher or let the dog out. And, I would argue, it is the reason many of us readers read (and, by extension, why we writers write.) The character’s struggle becomes our struggle. Writers create meaningful people and situations by exploring their own selves, their friends, their family, their communities, their worst enemies. Readers connect to these works. If a writer writes in earnest, their story will resonate with an audience.There is something so special and unique about that writer-reader connection. It’s not forced and it’s not artificial. Rather, it is natural, something hard to define, the mark of a gifted author. Creating this bond, this mutual understanding, between myself and another person is my most highly esteemed goal with everything I write.
Right now I am reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower (a gift from Santa, in case you were wondering.) After the first couple of pages, I groaned a bit inside. Yet another coming-of-age novel, I thought to myself. It’s not that I have anything against such novels, but I do feel like I’ve read quite a few, probably because there are so many on the market. These books are incredibly popular because they are relatable; they put into words all the confused feelings of adolescence. However, as I continue to read The Perks, I am starting to revise my initial opinion. I can easily see myself writing a novel that would be placed in the coming-of-age category. I actually don’t even like that term; coming-of-age feels limiting. I think books like Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower are talkin’ more than just puberty. There is so much more at play: human isolation, the phoniness of society, the many beautiful and heartbreaking elements of the human experience. What attracts me to Perks is the honesty and candidness of main character Charlie. There are descriptions of his sadness in particular that stop my heart. In other words, there are several instances in which I see myself in Charlie. If you’ve read the book, you know that there is even a part where Charlie admits he has a hard time separating himself from the novels he reads.
There is a little bit of yourself in every character you write, whether they be personal attributes you consider strengths or things you wish you could change. Integrating these elements into your characters is very often unconscious; my friends or family usually pick up on bits of myself in my characters before I do. The important thing is that these parts of your soul are also reflective of the shared human soul. You are not only seeing yourself in your own characters or the characters of another novel; you are seeing a piece of everyone else. This is why reading makes me feel less alone, why I feel the urge to write and tell others that they are not alone. I want to forge connections with people who may technically be strangers, but are in many ways mirrors of myself.
In a good book, I see myself. I see the world.