“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies”, said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one” – George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons
I have read many books over the years – fiction, non-fiction, biographical, action, adventure, historical, futuristic, comic books, horror and fantasy. A lot of them I have read until they become battered, dog-eared, with spines broken and covers and pages coming free from their bindings (though not an issue for my Kindle books). I haven’t read any of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books, though I am a massive fan of the TV series. But I will. That said, I found this quote, and it really resonated with me. We wake up, eat, go to work, do chores, go to bed, repeat. But as readers, the second we open the cover, we slip in to the lives of the characters so well-represented in black and white on these pages. We live vicariously through them, or even alongside them if the descriptive narrative is that rich! But this quote for me doesn’t quite go far enough. It isn’t just the thousand lives we live through books, it is the myriad locales and exotic, alien, barren, urban or otherwise, locations that we visit, inhabit and explore whenever we pick up a book.
As a child I visited Badger’s House and Toad Hall in Wind in the Willows and crept through Mr. McGregor’s Garden with Peter Rabbit. In later years I experienced the horrors inside the possessed Overlook Hotel. I’ve walked the halls and classrooms of Hogwarts and strolled through the alleys and streets of Diagon Alley. And one of my favourites – I’ve wandered the cobbled streets of Ankh-Morpork and enjoyed a bar brawl or three in the Mended Drum.
The best authors create characters we connect with. They make us laugh with them, love them, loathe them. A good character is entertaining, a great character is real. The same goes for locations. If we can almost hear, smell and feel the surroundings, a book is far more engaging. The worlds created in our minds, constructed from varied combinations of the same twenty-six letters of the British language don’t have to be real. But if those letters are made in to words, and those words combined in just the right way, well, then they create something so vivid in our minds’ eye that the locations might as well be real.
Some people say reading a favourite book is like slipping in to a comfy pair of slippers. When I open my favourite books, I get a sense of going home – visiting a location I feel I know, somewhere I could walk blindfolded following my other senses thanks to the vibrant description. And when I read about characters in books I have read many times before, it’s like visiting old friends again. On a level, we know them, and how they work, what makes them tick, if the author has made them deep, multidimensional even.
So yes, a man who reads lives a thousand lives. But he also travels a thousand roads, in a thousand countries, worlds, galaxies, universes. He travels thousands of realities. A well constructed, brilliantly written book isn’t just an escape from reality, but it can be a whole new and wonderful place to visit, with different adventures to enjoy!
Who are your favourite characters and locations in books? Where do you go, and who with when you take your most loved book off the shelf and open the cover? Let me know in the comments section. 🙂