Hello! Here I am again, availing myself of the opportunity to play with words on the pixel page, which is what Anne Barwell kindly allows me to do here once each month. This is a busy week for me, as I’m preparing for the release of Wraith Queen’s Veil and planning to attend a small conference in Seattle this coming weekend—in addition to all the other writing, editing, promoting, and coordinating in my hopper, but I’m enjoying this change of pace—taking this time to put together a post for Drops of Ink—regardless of what waits on my desk.
As I mentioned, I’ve got a release coming up, and soon I’ll be blogging all around the web, different posts about the same topic—my book! I have a lot of fun stuff planned for that, and within the next couple of days, on my blog at Queerly YA, I’ll list the places and dates where you’ll be able to find it over roughly the next month. I truly hope you’ll visit me in my travels, enjoy the posts, comment, enter the raffle, have some fun. But today, this post on this blog, I’m not going to talk about my book.
I believe in reading books twice, and I’m going to tell you why.
If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ve probably figured out I love a good quote. Let me just start right out with a couple that are, I think, right on target for the subject of reading books more than once.
First, George Robert Gissing confesses he does it—apparently a lot.
“I know every book of mine by its smell, and I have but to put my nose between the pages to be reminded of all sorts of things.”
And then Clifton Fadiman spells it out pretty plainly.
(In an aside to Mr. Fadiman, I say, Classic-shmassic! That’s true of every good book!)
But let’s get a little deeper, perhaps a bit more specific, shall we? For starters, I’ll briefly revisit a tenet I’ve hammered on so often the scars will never heal. This:
Fiction teaches us about being human!
For this post, I hope you will agree to that as a stipulation. Rather than beating the topic up any more, I’ll simply say if you don’t understand why I say that, or you don’t believe me, or you want to look into it a little more, here are a few places to pick up some more information.
- 1) An article in Psychology Today by Christopher Bergland
Reading Fiction Improves Brain Connectivity and Function
- 2) A blog post on Buffer.com by Courtney Seiter—The Surprising Power of Reading Fiction: 9 ways it makes us happier and more creative
- 3)From The Mary Sue, an article by Jill Pantozzi—We Knew It! Reading a Book More than Once has Mental Health Benefits
There’s a lot more out evidence to be had. For a quick start, I recommend a Google search on “What do we learn from reading fiction.”
But moving on, we’re talking today not just about why it’s good to read fiction, but why read it twice—or more! And yes, there are some great articles already written on the subject. I encourage you to read them, and I’ll add a couple links. Here, however, I’m simply going to give you my opinion, formed from the squiggly path of my own thoughts. Maybe you’ll agree, maybe you won’t, or maybe you’ll decide to think the idea over some more yourself. If that’s the case, I hope this post will be a starting point for traveling down your own road.
I see books as a magic mirror.
When I say that from fiction we learn to be human, I mean that in a well-written book with a meaningful characters and a worthy story, we see ourselves. In one sense, both the samenesses and differences between us and a character—especially the “bad guys”—informs our idea of who—and what—we are. But on a deeper level, we grow our self-concept when we “identify,” recognizing the deeper core of humanity that we share with all reasonably complete human personalities. These aren’t traits so much as potentials.
Think about it this way. Say John-Jane Smith-Jones is a person we know who lives off a small chunk of land in a rural area and supplements a meager food budget by hunting for meat. Chances are, at least some among us, or those we know, will strongly disapprove, thinking, “I could never kill a deer! They have a right to life!” Putting aside all arguments for or against that idea, I’m simply illustrating a character trait. In contrast, even that person with strong feelings about the morality of hunting has a core of shared human nature that allows them to understand why someone will hunt in order to eat.
We don’t automatically know this, but when we recognize it in others, the familiarity cues the learning. Of course, if a person is very quiet and reflective as they walk through life, that might do the trick as well as reading, but who gets to do that? Perhaps a few—monks and cloistered nuns and such. For most of us though, life calls for too much caution, preparation, planning, action, and at least responding if not reacting. Books give us the chance to go there—one of the ways the reading mirror works
Yes, I have a quote for this, from Edward P. Morgan.
A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy.
So, we read a book once and we see ourselves in it, right down to our core. We understand our place in the scheme of things as human beings a little better than we did before we read it.
We “get,” to a degree, that when we see other people on the street, they are us and we are them, down deep. We measure the characters in the book against that shared core. Did they embrace the best parts of that humanity? Did they grow a tough layer of fear that kept them from being authentic, made them mean, made them miserable? Did they push beyond it—insist on love even in the face of native instinct for self-preservation?
And then we measure ourselves against that core and against that character—the magic mirror at work.
Great. Spiffy. Books are cool like that. But this post is about why read it twice.
We grow. The magic mirror grows with us.
Or, as E.M. Forster put it in Two Cheers for Democracy:
I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves.
Really, it seems pretty obvious. The next time we read that book, we’re a little older, perhaps a little wiser but definitely a little more experienced. We develop a whole new relationship with the characters because we are not who we were before, and consequently they can’t be either. Before, John Q. Character was a teenager living in a magic land who doesn’t trust magic because everyone has more than him, say, but now he is a teenager who doesn’t trust magic because he knows you can’t measure magic that way and you can never predict what will come of it. Why the change? Because sometime between the first time we met him and now, we have faced the fact of our own fear that our magic (be it love, talent, whatever) cannot be measured and the outcome cannot be controlled.
The marks are still on the wall from where we measured ourselves before. One mark for “this is how tall and wide my human potentials stand.” One mark for “this is how I measure myself against it.” And one more for “this is how I measure myself against the characters that matter in the book.”
The magic reading mirror is positioned on the opposite wall, and when we read it again, we not only measure ourselves anew in relation to our potentials and the characters, we—like children—measure our standing against the marks we made before.
Okay. To sum up, R.D. Cumming:
“A good book has no ending. ~R.D. Cumming”
Thanks for sticking around to the end of this blog. See you next month!