Understanding Yourself Through Stories
According to Google, 129,864,880 books have been published in modern human history (27MAR2020). Some of us may not read past 100 in our lifetime. Some of us will barely reach double digits with the list we were required to read in school. Even a proper reader may only go through a few thousand before he runs out of time.
Quite frankly, how many books go unread isn’t that big of a deal. Books are like people, most of them won’t be that great or enduring for us, anyway. There will likely only be a few that we will ever feel or felt we have loved. Depending on how literarily promiscuous we are, we may only love one book in our lifetime or over 50. Let’s average that out and say for most of us, we may have, in our lifetime, around 25 books that will truly leave a mark on us.
They will be different for each of us. They will each affect us in their own special way.
This all may sound odd to a non-reader. Books are for nerds. Books are for introverts. Books are for boring, snobby people who act sophisticated. However, there is a hidden, yet bottom line, truth your geeky friends aren’t telling you:
Books simplify things.
That’s right. Books are powerful examples of taking our concerns (not just the writer’s) and organizing them into clear ideas.
One of the ways we writers manage to make life ‘simpler’ than our everyday living experience is we, quite simply, get rid of a lot of the necessary, yet boring, parts of life. We go, more or less, straight from one significant moment to the next. We skip most of the boring business meetings and countless hours sitting in front of a screen. Unless it is funny, we don’t talk about phone calls with our parents or the last doctor’s appointment. Hell, we can write an 8-hour long novel about a marriage that spanned 30 years.
The condensed rationale of our story straightens out the usual confusion of reality. The connections between episodes are clearer. We can feel, finally, like we know what in the hell is going on.
Writers also give the gift of explaining things for us along the way. They will tell us why one guy is acting like such a douchebag, and the beautiful girl is too shy to talk to anyone. We know their secret thoughts and motives. The characters in a book are more transparent and well-defined than the characters we meet in real life.
The bad guys are distinctly bad. The heroes are obviously right. Any virtue or vice of any character is more clearly defined through the events that take place, we have no doubts about who we are reading about.
These clearly defined characters help us identify ourselves in our own hazy and disastrous emotional lives.
It is so easy to hate or love, admire or condemn the characters on the page easier than we can the people in our lives. This ‘escape’ readers are always talking about when they read, is an escape from the complexity of our lives. Our minds always feel like they are being beaten against the ropes trying to understand everything that is always going on. Diving into a book gives us a world where we can make sense of everything.
Most writing, or writers, probably won’t make you feel too much of anything beyond a brief moment. Yet, on rare, but tremendously momentous occasions, they will manage to put words in front of us that will leave us breathless. They will find the words to the feelings that have eluded us for so long. Perhaps we couldn’t find the words or perhaps we never even knew we felt that way.
It will be as if the writer knows us better than we know ourselves.
It almost starts to feel like they are telling our story. Yet, not only telling our story but doing it in a way that makes sense. It’s so clear. How could they possibly see our lives so well and achieve this impossible feat of clarifying our lives that we have failed at for so long?
Literature helps clear the fog of our minds. We often feel lost for words. We see how charming it is to watch birds playing tag in the trees. We feel the beauty and warmth of the setting sun. We know there is a special smell in the air after a rain.
We can sense things beyond our words on many given occasions throughout life. Unfortunately, we just struggle to put them into the understandable and exchangeable symbols we call words.
‘Isn’t that nice..?’ Is our verbalization of one of the most precious moments we have just witnessed. It’s a little frustrating that our feelings seem too intricate, delicate, fuzzy, and tricky for us to really get a handle on and express clearly for the world to understand.
A writer, at least an ideal one, will just give you enough of what you need for you to connect what you already know. It may be as simple as the slow movement of your grandmother’s hand as she goes to grab her glass of tea or the kiss that your wife gives you in the morning that escorts you to your car.
They are simple descriptions of things that magically take away the fog of life.
The great writers have a way of building bridges to areas we may have not been able to reach before. These areas can be people, ideas, or parts of ourselves. They cut out the white noise of life to focus on the key connections and experiences. They then take these connections and experiences we may easily overlook in life and give them new meaning through direct preference and emphasis.
Great writers point out the important things in life that we share. They tell us where we should be looking in our own lives. They help us feel what we thought we couldn’t or shouldn’t feel.
Deep down, there are many things we want to do with our lives. We want to be good and to give tender, warm care to someone we love. It is just so often we don’t seem able to. There is no one to give these feelings to, or, most often, it just seems too compromising or scary to do so.
It’s too risky in today’s dog-eat-dog world to be nice to someone without knowing they will be kind back. So we don’t do much of anything. We freeze our feelings. We freeze ourselves.
But in a story, we meet someone we feel for. Maybe she is a beautiful, gentle young woman or her dying soldier husband who fought for what he believed in but will never see his family again. No matter who it is, we feel okay to open our emotional selves to them and curse the world for how unjust it is, while weeping, a little, on the inside, at how cruel life is.
This doesn’t make us feel miserable. It somehow makes us feel relieved. We finally used that emotional muscle that has gone brittle and cold over time. Exercising this muscle makes us feel stronger to take on the world.
Given, not all books will simplify the parts of our lives we are looking to understand. Perhaps it is just a shit book, but it could often be that we are not in the right time or place to appreciate the knowledge it is giving us.
It would be great to have an app that connects a person and a book much like all the dating apps we have today (I’ll take 10% for whoever creates it - copyright 27MAR2020), but this idea just hasn’t been given the attention it deserves yet.
Sure, our friends can recommend books, but how often do they ever pick the right blind date for you? They may think the book is a nice match, because it was a match for them. Yet, we know, whether in dating or reading, what is right for one, isn’t right for the other.
It’s a bit of a gamble and a lot of patience to find the ideal book or author for you, but once you do, it will open up a new level of consciousness for you - emotionally and mentally. It will clear the muck in your mind and make your heart more sensitive to the things in life that matter most to you.
Though books are on the surface a form of entertainment, deep down, they are fantastic ways of becoming a little better at who we truly are and always were.