To read fiction means to play a game by which we give sense to the immensity of things that happened, are happening, or will happen in the actual world. By reading narrative, we escape the anxiety that attacks us when we try to say something true about the world. This is the consoling function of narrative — the reason people tell stories, and have told stories from the beginning of time.
Instead of a book, what if we’re actually writing (or not writing) in the margins of our lives? What if our lives are books? What is the sign of our presence? Are we pressing into the margins our interpretations and questions? Are we circling offending verbs and drawing furious arrows to the margin where we scrawl “irony,” “frustration,” “voiceless,” “unfair!” Or do we simply turn the pages, passively receiving what’s given, furiously disagreeing but remaining silent about it?
Sometimes it is the smallest thing that saves us: the weather growing cold, a child’s smile, and a cup of excellent coffee.
Then I celebrated my Wall of Books. I counted the volumes on my twenty-foot-long modernist bookshelf to make sure none had been misplaced or used as kindling by my subtenant. “You’re my sacred ones,” I told the books. “No one but me still cares about you. But I’m going to keep you with me forever. And one day I’ll make you important again.” I thought about that terrible calumny of the new generation: that books smell.
Reading is one of the joys of life, and once you begin, you can’t stop and you’ve got so many stories to look forward to.
Once you learn how to read, you will be forever free.