8 August, 2008 § Leave a comment
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with words. Small ones that drip off your tongue, long ones that roll around in the back of your mouth, funny ones that tickle your throat on their way up, sad ones that press against the back of your chest… maybe that’s why I enjoyed studying Derrida and Foucault and Saussure and Bakhtin and Chomsky and all the others so much. They achieved the impossible by taking something that seems simple at first glance and illuminating the complexity of language until every letter, every dash and every squiggle is viewed in a new light. Colorless green ideas sleep furiously, after all.
The other day, Lizzie was standing in the middle of my apartment, raking the walls of my living room with her curious gaze. Shelves stand high in each corner and against two of the far walls, lined with unsymmetrical rows of paper bindings and hard-cover titles. Brightly colored stacks of books rest on top of two oak coffee tables pushed together, their mysterious allure vying with the vivacity of the nearby Rothko print. Some are new, still holding the aroma of whichever warehouse they were most recently shipped from, but most are older with crinkled pages, bent covers and smudged lines, each with a self-contained history of their own. Lizzie turned to me, and with her usual piercing simplicity, asked me, “Ellie, why do you have such an emotional attachment to books, anyway?” It’s funny, really; you would think that someone who reads as much as I do would have an easy answer to that, and yet, I’m still mulling over her question several weeks later.
Someone once said (probably C.S. Lewis – – he seems to be the most often-quoted writer in literary circles, particularly those of a Christian bent) that we read to know we’re not alone. Maybe that’s the answer: I read to find a way out of the limitations of my own existence, and I read to be comforted by the universality of certain questions we all struggle with, regardless of name or color or ethnicity. I read for the sake of stumbling across that particular turn of phrase that resonates with a side of my character I didn’t even know existed, and I read to discover a new facet of something that is true. I read to be inspired by another’s whimsical lyricality, and I read to be shocked out of the inherent myopia that comes with complacency and self-absorption. I read because in doing so, I am able to grasp hold of a Presence far greater than myself and that momentary glimpse, however fleeting, makes it all worth while. I read out of boredom, out of sadness, out of loneliness, out of exhilaration, and out of curiosity – – I read because I can’t not read.
And then I think: well, great. That’s all good and well, but what difference does it make? I know I can read, (and can even read wonderfully if that’s possible), but can I touch a life and make the world a better place by doing so?
That is the golden question of the hour. And the 3 a.m. hour at that.