We all know it: Books are powerful things. As I kid, I learned this when reading Salem’s Lot--alone in the house, late at night, during a storm--and I realized that hiding under the blankets was probably not my best defense against vampires. I learned this in college, when I realized that one of my life rules had to be “Never read Chekhov before breakfast,” because before I figured that out, I’d spent a gorgeous spring week wandering around campus in a dismal Russian funk.
Books can alter our reality, as Julie mentioned in her recent post about getting lost in a good book. Reading her essay, a rush of memories came to me, times when I was so lost in that book that reality and the one in the book start to blur. Call it overwork or susceptibility, call it not paying attention to the outside world, but I bet you’ll relate to moments like these:
- The one time I did not immediately flee the dryer sheet-scented purgatory that is the Laundromat as soon as I’d finished the wash. I was on a bench in Paris—actually, I was on a bench in Salem, Massachusetts reading The Age of Innocence--and could NOT understand why I couldn’t find Newland Archer, to tell him to get his butt up those stairs.
- The moment under the beach umbrella when I felt my ankle get hot, and could have sworn that I saw smoke coming up from the place where the sun hit. Yes, I burn to candy-apple red, and have to wear SPF 350, but for a moment, it all seemed so much more dire. Blame it on reading Robin McKinley's Sunshine, a wonderful vampire book.
- Waiting in the border control and customs line in the airport, when I found myself becoming increasingly anxious. Were my documents okay? Had I filled out the forms properly? It was a trip for pleasure, this time, right? This was courtesy of reading Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy (Lindsay Moran) and The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA (Antonio J. Mendez). By the time I was asked what I do for a living, I was surprised at how calmly—and convincingly—I could answer “writer.”
- And most eerily, there was walking into a state-of-the-art gym in San Diego. Instead of seeing the expected elliptical trainers and weight machines, I saw racks and pulleys. If I hadn’t been reading a flock of medieval mysteries on the plane, I might have recognized them as Pilates machines instead of instruments of torture. If there was ever a moment I wanted to flee a gym, that was one of them.
It’s those little moments of shaking up reality that make books such awesome things, and a single act of reading can change us forever. As we near the holidays, I’m particularly grateful for the community books have built here—with the help of my dear Femmes. So Happy Holidays, the very best in 2007—and let me know what books have rocked your world!