Monday, August 9, 2010

A Cautionary Tale

When I was in college, I had this friend who was, um...fixated.

She was a good friend, lived nearby, funny, really talented, but, above all, fixated. Her fixation was Harry Potter. Don't get me wrong, we can all agree Harry Potter is amazing-town, but, this friend's interest in HP went much, much further than you're imagining. She wasn't down at the park pretending to ride broomsticks or anything, but, she never stopped reading the books.

She'd finish the books (plural) and then start again at the beginning. She took her copies to the gym, and read them as she ran on the treadmill. She'd read them so often that the books would fall open without any resistance from the softened spine. I can't say for certain why she did this, but, she fell into those books every time she opened them.

I know this feeling. Or, rather, I understand the desire to do this. I'm talking about returning to a book, or a series of books, again and again. Becoming so comfortable and happy within the world of the book, that real life starts to look banal and feel achingly mundane by comparison.

It sorta feels harmless, doesn't it? Kind of silly. I mean, what's the problem with a little escape when you're bored or unhappy or otherwise dissatisfied? Who among us hasn't felt their hand twitch toward the book that you know has the power to surround you; to pull you under like a riptide?

But, that's just it. Like a riptide, it's treacherous. You think you're swimming out just a bit, and suddenly, BAM, you're 20 miles out to sea, and reading the same book for the 5th time.

I'll admit it's a wrench to not do this. To not pull the old Harry Potter trick on every engrossing book I read. Because I love they world that they create, and I want to live in it, to be a part of it. But, it's like a warm shower on a cold, cold day. The longer I stay in it, the harder the transition out will be. The more startling and unpleasant.


I never read two Brontë books in a row (and I never accompany any read with the PBS/BBC movie). I pause between each installment of the Harry Potter books to catch my breath and remember my own non-magical life. And, though I just re-read the Hunger Games, I know, in my heart, I can't do it again. I'm just not allowed.

Because, as un-epic as it sometimes feels, I have to be happy with the story I'm writing with my own life.


  1. I'm sort of a proletariot jerk and I hate much of the trappings of wealth but every time I read The Great Gatsby I want to be Nick. I want to live in East Egg. I want to be at Gatsby's parties and be taken into his confidence. I want to run around in linen suits all day and dance all night in speakeasies.

    Very nice, Valerie. You captured it.

  2. i was just about to re-read The Hunger Games.
    does this mean i can't?

    you really did nail it.
    it kills me to think i am merely a muggle, but i need to face the facts.
    thanks a lot (you can read this sarcastically and then re-read it sincerely).

  3. I also have re-read Gatsby about a zillion times. And of course (the ever stereotypical) Pride & Prejudice. Usually I return to these types of books after reading a string of disappointing ones!

    But it's not so bad to fall into this sort of habit - to relish something that gives you joy AND is legal, etc. Right?

  4. James, thanks.

    Annie, thanks, and, no, by all means, re-read, get swept up again.

    Karen, I know what you mean about returning to books that never let you down, after being let down.

    (and, you might want to re-read your state laws, because it's a punishable offense in New York, that I know for sure)

  5. I just finished Hunger Games, and am itching to get my hands on Catching Fire. I was in need of a great book, and this totally hit the spot. The last book comes out next month, and they are making a movie out of it! This is exciting to me.

    I'm not much of a re-reader, but I do tend to get overly involved in books, and movies and TV shows. I let them get a little too real, the characters becoming no longer characters but real people. I guess this could be bad, but it also makes the experience of reading or watching a lot of fun.