Anybody else here ever get so head-down into something that it’s like you’re in another world? I definitely do. When I was a child I didn’t hear anything going on around me when I “had my nose in a book”, as my mother said. Nose, nothing. My whole head was in the book, in the world of the book.
“Sorry, I didn’t hear you – I was reading.” (Why was I apologising – why do we apologise for being lost in a book? It’s not as though we were doing drugs. “Sorry, Mom, I was doing a line of coke and I snorted just as you called. Whoa! Everything’s – wild!”)
I’ve read books that, when I finished with them, felt like I’d just come up out of deep water. The shift from the reality of the book to the reality of – well, reality – was that profound. I’d sometimes feel out of breath, dizzy with disorientation at finding myself out of that world.
Now, I know there are those who would consider this a bad thing, this getting lost and forgetting where you are. Maybe it is, if you do it all the time and can’t cope with this reality when you’re here. I’ll tell you, though, that there was a time in my life when this reality was almost unbearable to me, and the only peace I had was when I was buried in the world someone else had created.
I was on the verge of freedom, although I didn’t know it then. The abusive relationship I was in was breaking up and I didn’t want it to. This is a measure of how mentally unbalanced I was, that I considered it a disaster to be losing a relationship that had sucked away my pride and spirit and sense of self-worth.
I read, and read, and read. Books were my refuge from my own increasingly hard-to-bear reality. The two authors I remember from that time were Lillian Hellman and Harlan Ellison. You might think Ellison a poor choice for someone in my situation; I know that I can’t figure out now why I found his dark stories so comforting then. All the same, I did.
Well, the relationship ended, and I lived, and books are still a refuge in hard times, as well as a pleasure in good ones. I still fall into them, the good ones, and find myself thinking of them in visual terms, as though I’d been watching a movie instead of reading words on a page. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostov did that for me. The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx did, too, and so did Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.
That’s the kind of book I want to write, one that drags people into the world of the story and makes vivid images in their heads. I want to write a book – if I’m lucky, more than one – that people will become so absorbed in that they don’t hear the call to supper. It’s the good review you’ll never read, the one that only an irritated parent or spouse hears.
“Sorry, I didn’t hear you. I was reading.”