Living within books

I hardly touch novels during semester, because the irresistible desire to keep reading and reading, and reading until I finish a book overrides the sensible prompts to sleep and be awake for school the next day. So each holidays, I pay a visit to the local library and borrow a stack of books and slowly churn through them with great enthusiasm.

I love classics in particular. Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, and even that Tess of the d'Urbervilles we all dreaded studying in high school. There is a quirkiness and mystery of a time and era past, and people who have such distinct ideas about women, about class, that fascinates me. These text have a richness - patient descriptions, colours, references to Biblical ideas or other popular texts at the time (undoubtedly, these are the elements which make them substantial for study by high school students over generations). Unfortunately, this art of painting a world and immersion into the character's lives is stripped to a bare minimum in many of today's popular novels, whose fast paced scenes, and flurry of dialogues, serve better as film material. But for all that I'm an impatient reader too, and for each classic I named above, I've had to start these books many times before I succeeded in passing the first one or two chapters.

A list of my holiday adventures:

A Tale of Two Cities - I remember the vivid references to this book from Sara in A Little Princess. Last holidays I managed two chapters before I gave up. This holiday I persevered and was rewarded with a story of love, of the terrible savage nature humans are capable of in times of desperation and of a mob mentality reminiscent of that scene in To Kill a Mockingbird. I've heard of but never studied the French Revolution and the novel gave life to this overthrow of aristocrats, and the impacts of this on daily life that I could never have gleaned from history books.

The Conversations at Curlow Creek - dreamy, poetic writing that was difficult to follow but I enjoyed the stories that ranged from a bushranger, to the childhood of a soldier from Ireland, on a backdrop of the harsh and wilderness of the "cursed" Australian land.
Anne of Green Gables - re-read, probably for the 30th+ time. I laughed at such lovable, comical characters. How come as a child I've never noticed, nor felt the twitch of irritation at how much Anne talked and talked. How is it that I didn't see Marilla's dry humour and sarcasm sprinkled throughout the novel. Being older, I could also smell the developing romance of Gilbert and Anne from miles away.

North and South - ah the stubborn Margaret and Mr Thornton. The strange commonplace practice of ladies "fainting" at shocking news. The contrast of north England with its factories and bustling cities, to the the south, with its idyllic landscapes, farms and small villages. The symbiotic relationship between masters and "hands" during the industrial revolution.

The Curious Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - I can see how such an improbable story would nevertheless resonate with each of us. The fascinating coexistance of our good and upright self, and our ugly and hateful being.

Others - I picked up a true story of a translator working for the inmates of Guantanamo Bay. The accounts spoke of such dehumanisation of individuals, and physical and psychological cruelty. Without the accounts of these detained men and the wives and children waiting for them at home, I would never have given much thought to the injustice of the whole operation. Another story I read was the autobiography of a schizophrenic man and the gradual paranoia that everyone was whispering about him, and all things were signs that linked to a grand plan to exterminate him. How horrible it would be to really be convinced of such things, as unreal as they are.

When we study symptoms of disease, the doctors tell us what you don't consciously think about, you won't see. I guess when we look at history, at our world (at the injustice, the divides, the hate, the mentally ill), what we don't learn to think about, we won't see either.

But when I live within the world of novels and imagination, I feel less and less connected to the reality of my physical existence. I should be careful not to slip too far. I've spent enough time over there and it's time to come back.



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