Dear well-read reader,
I pick up books for a lot of different reasons – to learn, to be emotionally moved and challenged, to be immersed in the lyrical potential of language. But sometimes I read because I’m craving the sensation of being transported. I want the great escape. I love it when I am partly through a book and I don’t want be anywhere in the world but curled up in a chair, devouring the pages. The imaginary people and their concerns have become entirely real. I can’t wait to find out what happens, and yet I dread the end of the book and the end of this other reality.
Strangely, the more I read, the less frequently I fall under this spell. I don’t know if I have become too aware of how language and plot works – it’s like I can see the wires and pulleys that are enabling the characters to fly. Or maybe I am reading the wrong types of books, those that are considered the canon of tomorrow and make me work hard to understand what the author is trying to do and how it will influence literature. I enjoy these types of books, too, and I think they are important for me to read, but they rarely offer escape.
In other cases, a book seems to take me on that perfect little vacation – I rip through the pages, but when I get to the end? As one reader friend put it, it’s like you just scarfed down an entire box of doughnuts. It seemed like fun at the time, but now you are feeling slightly ill and kind of disgusted with yourself for having so little self-control.
It’s such a rare treat when I come across a book that is both well-written and page turning, satisfying in its emotional depth and entirely transporting. Some of the best escape books I’ve read in recent years– the Harry Potter books. There is nothing experimental about Rowling’s writing style. She falls prey to cliché now and again. In ways the characters and plot conform to existing molds. And yet, I can think of few books that have magically swept me off to such an unbelievable world and made me believe so fully.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See was another one of my rare escapes. This lovely novel set me down in 19th century China and wrapped me in the fascinating lives of the characters. I was entirely transported, and when I was finished with the book, I felt changed as a reader.
Just in the past few weeks, I’ve read some really terrific novels, books I think are well-written, important in our social context, entertaining and surprising. I cared about the characters, and the plot kept me turning the pages. And yet, none of them successfully cast a spell over me. I wasn’t swept into another world.
That’s what I want. I want that perfect escape book.