What I’m Reading – Full Immersion, Full Speed Ahead
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”
— George R. R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons
I love to read because reading is liberating. Consuming the written word provides a freedom to think, react, and discover that can be found nowhere else. Reading captivates me, it invigorates and motivates me, and it allows me to question and to grow. These are qualities that are not only important to me, but that are paramount to the human experience.
My love of reading in my adult life is juxtaposed by how little I enjoyed it as a child and teenager. Reading kept me from what I really wanted to do, which was to be outdoors or playing sports. Books became a burden, and reading a sentence I had to endure or escape. With a mother who taught history and language arts, I found myself imprisoned by reading, subjected to participation in “Great Books” reading groups during my captivity. I was forced to read and discuss works like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, George Orwell’s 1984, and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. These novels took me to difficult and complex realities for which I was ill prepared at the time, but that I now appreciate and even recognize as pivotal in shaping my conception of the world and myself.
I did not become a bibliophile overnight. Brian Jacques’ Redwall series and Tolkien’s seminal The Lord of the Rings started me on the path toward the joys of reading. But it was Michael Crichton’s 1999 novel Timeline that truly captured me as a reader. Not only does the novel allow the reader to experience the action and adventure of medieval knighthood, but also a race against time using modern science fiction technologies. Adroitly combining two of my favorite genres, Timeline could do no wrong.
Now I feel the need to be fully immersed in my reading – to explore new worlds and realities, to battle fictional dystopia. In those new and often challenging worlds, I see hope and humanity’s unwavering perseverance. From Lois Lowry’s The Giver to James Dasher’s The Maze Runner, and even Orwell’s 1984, I see the most important human qualities shine through the darkness. Reading has reinforced my belief that the light inside us will always manifest if we look for it, and that while the crucible of existence can make that difficult, we choose to share our light even in the darkest of times.
I am almost always reading two things at the same time, and they are almost always vastly different. In addition to reading avidly, I’m a runner, and while I run, I listen to audio books. Most recently, I’ve been enjoying the young-adult fantasy series Septimus Heap by Angie Sage. The series is all about enjoying adventure and overcoming adversity in a magical and medieval world. Interestingly, because I have listened to books so much while running, I now associate specific areas where I have lived and travelled with elements of the stories. I think of Wash Park in Denver and the Ender saga by Orson Scott Card, I associate the Nature Center at Lake Okoboji in Iowa with The Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, and now the community running paths in Davis, California remind me of Septimus Heap. Where the feet fail the mind will go.
Concurrently, every night I have been reading a thriller. Right now that is the Cotton Malone Series by Steve Berry. I love the way a thriller prods the reader to see connections and to question the way things are, and while these play with history and fictional intrigue, I am fascinated by the possibilities.
Possibilities are like stretching a canvas for creativity, which is one realm of my work. Typically I read strictly for pleasure, but I do peruse some blogs and check out the portfolio-sharing site Behance on occasion. I also find inspiration in reading Matthew Inman’s comic and blog: The Oatmeal. The complete freedom of expression and the ability to not take things so seriously that the site espouses is refreshing. Reading his work is always a cathartic experience, and I admire the commitment to intelligent insanity.
The pursuit of knowledge that reading facilitates both drives me and gives me stress. My sister reads over 200 books a year. I want to have read it all too and it eats at me that I haven’t. The need to have read more Shakespeare and Chaucer, or to dive into philosophy with Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky really gets to me, yet I never find time to do it. And maybe I never will.
I realize that I am afraid that I will not really understand what these great authors meant or hoped to convey. My fear of the unknown or of my intellectual inadequacies shouldn’t occur, however, because I have the freedom to interpret and think and grasp what I want – a freedom that is powerful and unique to the written word. I won’t know until I try. I am reading to embrace that freedom and, as Martin said, to live as many lives as I can.