News: Mystical Reading

2012-11-19 20:52:PM ago by nicole.boyce

What is a book? A talisman? A diversion? A really bulky coaster? Your answer will vary depending on your personality, but most will agree, a book is a powerful thing. Books have the potential to change your life – for an hour, as you laugh at The Bedwetter on a plane, for a year, as you attend freshman classes dressed like Holden Caulfield, or for a lifetime, as you frame your romances through the insights of Jane Eyre.
 
Because of this power, writing about reading (and about writing, in turn) often takes on a mystical quality – a tone of reverence implying a spiritual experience. And indeed, books have a history of being regarded as sacred objects. Monks embellished their vellum. It’s always been frowned on to burn them or throw them away. Like flags, they’re representative. Besides, what a terrible waste of semicolons.
 
There’s no question that literature can change us. It can expose us to new insights and perspectives. As literary critic Parul Sehgal discusses in her recollection of ‘dangerous’ books, books can – particularly for groups which have historically been disenfranchised – be a window into worlds from which someone may otherwise have been excluded. Books are doorways as well as rosaries, mirrors as well as crystal balls.
 
I wonder, though, if we’re putting too much pressure on books. To be our entertainers, our lovers, our teachers, our saviors...is this too much to ask? Are the books getting tired? Are we getting tired? Do these crushing expectations hinder our ability to enjoy them? As Matthew Tierny points out, literature’s great and all, but just not as glamorous as miracles ought to be. And though reading and writing can be epiphanies, sometimes a book is just a book. Right?
 
What do you think? Do you use books as meditative objects? As ways to spark critical thinking? As ways to pass the time? All three?

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