Hooked on books

Hooked on books

Daniel Katz, Staff Columnist

I love books, and I admit, I definitely have a type. The books I’m faithful to all have something I can best describe as a pulse. The way they nonchalantly roll out the moments that change everything feels simultaneously unnatural, supernatural, and totally natural.

I’ve felt this way since early on in my childhood. While I’ll admit it’s a little vanilla, the “Harry Potter” series really sucked me in. The character and world building begged me to keep turning pages lit by a flashlight under the sheets. My appreciation for the book probably has something to do with gaining the ability to comprehend “plots” and “narratives” at nine-ish years old rather than the series’ pure quality.

Yet, the books still stick with me and so many others my age. The books’ ability to simulate and explore interpersonal relationships that its target audience was going through while also having a fully-realized setting that allowed the reader to “escape” daily life was the reason it became so successful. I read the “Harry Potter” series once more (and still have the complete collection somewhere in my house) before starting seventh grade.

During middle school, I sort of lost my interest in reading. I can’t say exactly why, but I think a gaming console, increased social freedom, and my fencing coach’s tendency to schedule me for weekly tournaments might have had something to do with it. I still enjoyed all the school books I read, and I didn’t feel as though I was losing any creativity inspired by literature. To be honest, I didn’t feel as though I lost anything by giving up reading for fun back then. The team rides to upstate New York and central New Jersey gave me all the stimulation I needed, even if a little lacking in ivory tower intellectualism.

Yet, the bookshelf in my basement called to me the summer before high school started. I went through the shelf, reminiscing. Finally, my neurons had a rare moment of connection where I remembered that I’m not quite illiterate. I picked up my long-neglected torch. The magic didn’t come back instantly; I don’t think much magic can come from ordering books from Amazon’s best sellers list. Yet, as the summer and year progressed, I kept feeling more of it. Reading “The Odyssey” in ninth grade was when I truly remembered why I liked reading so much.

The summer after freshman year, I discovered “A Personal Matter” by Kenzaburo Oe, a semi-autobiographical novel about a man reckoning with having a disabled son, wherein Oe lays out what feels, to me, like the original blueprints of fear and hope. When I first read “A Personal Matter,” I felt like I’d been put through the emotional equivalent of a garbage compactor. I keep re-reading it.

I’ve found a higher concentration of this specific type of literary magic in 20th century Japanese literature, but it generally seems to rear its head in books from cultures that offset my own. They don’t avoid the realities of life’s forced compromises: few straight answers, no guarantees, and time’s tendency to separate us from the version of ourselves we last recognized. In one story, characters see two of their country’s cities destroyed by nuclear weapons; in another, a character’s podunk village friend perfectly emulates the voice of their emperor, who was set up as an untouchable demi-god. If that doesn’t catalyze new perspective, I don’t know what does.

I don’t mean to sound detached from reality—a diagnosis I’ll leave to the pros—but pulling a situation from a book and analyzing it helps inform my own actions. For example, the Bible taught me that a little faith goes a long way and that every animal on earth is inbred. (OK, maybe I doubt this one a bit.) While we don’t have a how-to-be-a-good-person class, we have English class; in my mind, it’s even better.

Something books have taught me is that even if common ground isn’t obvious, it’s there. Books are like telepathy; they are the closest thing we have to understanding people whom we have nothing in common with and have never met. Just like in the flesh, the only way to break ground is to be honest—but for that honesty to be received, there needs to be a warming up period. That’s the first few chapters.

Let’s assume that you’re in your favorite receiving place, just as I am in the place where I do my best transmitting. We’ll have to perform our mentalist routine not just over distance but over time as well, yet that presents no real problem; if we can still read Dickens, Shakespeare, and (with the help of a footnote or two) Herodotus, I think we can manage the gap between 1997 and 2000. –Stephen King