By Beth Winze
“If you want a happy ending that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” ~ Orson Welles
All my life, reading has been essential in my maturing from early childhood to my late teenage years. I cannot tell you exactly when my fervor for reading came about, I think I simply have to accept the fact that it just did. Throughout school I was told that reading was the paramount way to absorb new information and it only made your brain “think tank” abundantly superior. No, it was not a chore for me to pick up a book when the teacher told us it was reading rest-time. I remember running my index finger along the worn binding of the books setting on the shelf wondering what adventure I would pick up that day. I would open the book and relish the crinkling binding, as I smoothed my hand over the inked pages, never hesitating to stick my nose right in the center of the book and inhale the adventure stuck in its pages. (Of course, only when no one else was looking.) There was simply something completely captivating in books. In not just the words, but in its appearance, shape, weight, smell, and look- books just stole my heart. It was the idea that I could live in another time period or experience a different culture without ever having to leave my bed.
Growing up, instead of being grounded like the normal pre-teen, I would have books taken away from me. This was positively infuriating. Props to my mother for finding a punishment so affective. Crying, begging, yelling, and whining quickly ensued my book removals. My mom would not hear the end of my discourse until she placed the book safely back in my grasp.
When I would open a book and the first line would be, “Dear reader,” I was immediately transfixed. The book became personal to me in those two words- like there was something written amongst those pages that would reach into my deepest soul and captivate my person.
Whenever I received a new book I would flip to the very first chapter and read the first word on the first line. And I would continue on to flip to the last chapter read the last sentence’s last word. It was almost as if these two words I read would somehow give me a pre-emptive glance into what I was about to read. It never did of course, but looking back now, my old habit has become symbolic.
I never thought of reading as dangerous. No, to say such a thing is horrible. But from the deepest part of my soul, I have come to believe it is.
“Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled “This could change your life.” -Helen Exley
I am currently reading for the second time The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. This book attributes to the recent realization of dangerous reading. (Not in a bad way of course. In fact, this book is my favorite book.) I of course, being that old habits die hard, read the first word and the last word of the book, “late” and “do”. Reading this book before, I can remember the treasure it held between its pages. But these two words hold so much more meaning than my lame attempt at guessing an entire 318 page novel. The words signify that this book will begin, and this book will end. Whatever my heart decides to do between these 318 pages is not up to me. I become completely vulnerable to the novelist and the story he has woven.
Another tragically dangerous thing about reading is the connection you make to the characters. From Pride and Prejudice Mr. Darcy to The Fault in Our Stars Augustus Waters, you cannot help but emotionally tie yourself to this realistic work of fiction. When they go through a whirlwind romance, you cannot help but hold future spouses to these impossible standards. (Sorry future husband of mine, you will never be able to reach the same level of Mr. Darcy) In being a vulnerable reader, one knows the immense power one single character of fiction can do to you.
“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
So I the writer, encourage you the reader, to embark on a perilous journey not for the faint of heart. Open your heart, mind, and senses to an entirely different emotional connection. Countless times have I lain on my bed sobbing through the last few chapters of a heart-wrenching novel because of a character’s death, loss, heroic rise, or wedding. And in those last few moments of a book, when you can see the last sentence in sight, you realize the emotional journey you have been on is ending. No longer will you be able to laugh at a character’s mishaps, or sigh at their first kiss, and cry when they hold the hand of their dying parent. Just as all things in life that are good must end, so will the book. But here is the most beautiful part. As this book ends, another book is sitting somewhere on a shelf waiting for its binding to be crinkled as it opens, for hands to run along its smooth, inked pages and for another vulnerable heart ready to fall in love with a whole new set of characters and words.
This…..this is the true danger in reading.