A few days ago, pre Gasgate, my husband sent me this quote via brainpickings.
It’s wonderful and it says everything about books and reading and what I realise powers my thirst for reading.
“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”
Carl Sagan, The Persistence of Memory
The quote made me realise something, too. For a few years I constantly stated as unconsidered fact how I regrettably stopped reading when I had my daughter.Of course this was held up as another example of my own uselessness whilst I was in The Dark Place. But having reread Sagan’s quote, I realise that that wasn’t true: I actually just stopped reading novels. In their place I read lots of things through my voracious, locust-like absorption of blogs, articles and opinion via the internet. What powered this was exactly what Carl Sagan describes so beautifully – man’s drive to connect and understand and find the truth of an issue, of life itself.
Of course, during that period, before I got turned on to ebooks with their seductive portability, what I lost by not reading novels during that 18 month period was the deep immersion into another perspective which I suppose actors must also experience. I also lost the rest from my head’s woolly tangle, which was unquestionably the biggest loss. What Carl Sagan describes is the truth of why I personally read. I don’t read solely to escape myself or relax, although these are potent by-products. I don’t know whether it is in fact the case, but it seemed to me that my situation and the things I faced growing up were unusual. Certainly, I felt extremely isolated and lonely and books for me were my way of understanding whether how I felt was normal. Adults learn that you do in fact have the authority to challenge whether what you are experiencing is acceptable, but a child most likely does not. As a child and young adult, I read to understand myself and my gnarly life and I suppose, later, I started writing – often excruciatingly – from the same place. I read an interview with Corinne Bailey Rae that so eloquently describes the well of her grieving and the role that her music played in processing that:
“It’s like I want to tell people about this thing, this thing that I could not make sense of and could not find anything I could read, or listen to, that would help me make sense of… I want to be out there on stage with my hands out going, does anyone else feel the same way?”
I’m not claiming Bailey Rae is the greatest artist to ever live, but what she – and Sagan are discussing – are to me the essence of humanity I think.
What they describe are to me what art seeks to express and why.