How has reading changed you?
And I don’t mean “This biography was so meaningful it changed my life!” or “Reading the classics turns you into an intellectual.” I mean the small, every-day things that we don’t always realize come from the books and stories we surround ourselves with.
Recently, I was working through a plateau in my martial arts training. I was tired, bored, and didn’t feel like I was going anywhere. Taekwondo had, and has, no immediate application in my life, and I wasn’t enjoying the exercise I got out of it. Why keep going? Because, I told myself, this is my backstory. In any good book the hero or heroine doesn’t whip impressive skills out of nowhere at the critical point. They have well established backstories. He didn’t just happen to understand the ancient writing on the walls: he’s a linguist fascinated by early periods, and we’re well aware of his interest. She didn’t just happen to sketch the intriguing design on the front of her notebook that caught the agent’s eye: she loves drawing and she’s been doodling and sketching throughout the book, maybe even taking lessons.
She didn’t just happen to fend off the older, stronger, man following her down the street, she’d been working out at Taekwondo for the entire book.
Understanding and appreciating what makes a good, realistic story translated itself into my everyday life when I started thinking in terms of input for output, the necessary work required to get a cool character trait, a sweet ability, that may not come into use until some unexpected point in the plot.
As summer green paints itself across the country, lately I go out walking and find myself drinking in the variety, the texture, the sheer detail and beauty of the scenery around me. Just walking down the street on a clear bright day, sun hot on the pavement and a light breeze cooling my face, I can suddenly feel like I stepped right into a book. I think most people have moments when they think “What a gorgeous day!” or “Isn’t this view really something?”, but it seems like novel-readers can be trained into an extra level of appreciation. A vivid setting for a good story draws our attention to the world. To the comfortable ‘rightness’ in a bustling, familiar street, to the satisfaction of a neat airy room, to the relief and sudden beauty in the green-flash of a single tree in a city of concrete and iron. Stop and smell the roses, they say, and while it’s one good thing to make a ritual of pausing on your way out the door to look at the flowerbed, it’s another good thing to see the flowers even without a ritual – that vibrant patch of color catches your eye, and without even trying you have the words to describe it, to understand that this single touch outside one more identical factory-laid house is important, hinting at the whole unique world inside.
When I plan for my future, or even think through a single upcoming interaction, it’s not just to-do lists and necessity in my mind: it’s an ongoing plot. And I don’t mean romanticization (that’s not always a bad thing either, but it’s a subject for another day) or daydreaming. My favorite characters are proactive and interesting. They make things happen in their worlds, they go out and learn new things, make new friends, go out exploring, overthrow the government. I learn from them to see the world a certain way. To see opportunities and chances, to take the occasional risk, to believe that today is interesting and tomorrow will be interesting too, and if it seems dull in the moment it’s my job to spice things up.
You can learn all these things from many places. You probably do, combining and reinforcing the most important ideas from various areas of life. But good novels are a slice of life, whether they’re fantasy or dystopian, modern or futuristic. They’re good places to learn these things, whether from osmosis or dissection and study.
What minor to major things have you learned from books?
How have they changed your day-to-day life?