Mostly we read books and set them aside, or hurl them from us with great force, and pass on. Yet sometimes there is a small residue that has an effect. The reason for this is the always unexpected and unpredictable intervention of that rare and sneaky phenomenon, love. One may read and like or admire or respect a book and yet remain entirely unchanged by its contents, but love gets under one's guard and shakes things up, for such is its sneaky nature. When a reader falls in love with a book, it leaves its essence inside him, like radioactive fallout in an arable field, and after that there are certain crops that will no longer grow in him, while other, stranger, more fantastic growths may occasionally be produced. We love relatively few books in our lives, and those books become parts of the way we see our lives; we read our lives through them, and their descriptions of the inner and outer worlds become mixed up with ours —they become ours.
Salon recently featured an interview with Marjane Satrapi, author of Persepolis and other graphic novels/memoirs. I loved this quote:
You said something interesting before -- that fears about security make us conservative. Can you explain the connection?
First, people have stopped talking about pleasure. Eating is a pleasure, but they will tell you if you eat you're going to get high cholesterol. If you make love, you're going to get AIDS. If you smoke, you're going to get cancer. But smoking is a pleasure -- I'm a smoker, I can testify. Eating is a pleasure. Making love is a pleasure. OK, it's a risk sometimes.
The fact is, the world is very fearful, because we don't know who the enemy is. The world is at war, but at war against who? Bin Laden turns into Saddam and Saddam turns into someone else. They all the time talk about security. Security, security, security. But when you talk about security, then everything is about being safe. And being safe also means having less freedom.
This makes me think of the end of Rushdie's piece:
Tyrants fear the truth of books because it's a truth that's in hock to nobody; it's a single artist's unfettered vision of the world. They fear it even more because it's incomplete, because the act of reading completes it, so that the book's truth is slightly different in each reader's different inner world, and these are the true revolutions of literature, these invisible, intimate communions of strangers, these tiny revolutions inside each reader's imagination; and the enemies of the imagination, politburos, ayatollahs, all the different goon squads of gods and power, want to shut these revolutions down, and can't. Not even the author of a book can know exactly what effect his book will have, but good books do have effects, and some of these effects are powerful, and all of them, thank goodness, are impossible to predict in advance.
Literature is a loose cannon. This is a very good thing.
Here's to taking creative risks, to embracing pleasure, to falling in love with books and life. Here's to countering fear with a full and passionate plunging into the word!