I remembered when, almost a year ago, I had a kind of a personal crisis where I kept asking myself why should I keep on reading and continually failed to get any satisfying answers (besides the joy the art of literature brings – which at that point was apparently not a reason good enough). I felt I had the knowledge of The World, the understanding of ‘it all’.., All stories, no matter how different, were basically one, long absorbed. Every character, no matter how ‘new’, seemed ancient and well-known. I felt I had nothing left to learn, nothing left to experience or understand, that reading, from then on, would be a pointless activity.
It was terrible. No matter how silly.
I didn’t want to feel like that. What would I do without the reading? – I’ve always thought it an essential part of my being. The feeling was shattering, but at the same time, I knew it was temporary.
Why am I mentioning this episode now? Because these days (‘months’ would be more precise but ‘days’ sounds better and hopeful), when I am working hard, when thoughts about what has been done and what is still to be done are constantly on my mind, I am being reminded of one of the roles that literature plays is my life – the role of the guardian of sanity.
The first time literature took this role was several years ago, after I started working as a tutor for a couple of primary school children.
These days, as I have said, I’ve been under a considerable amount of stress again. I needed, I was desperate for another narrative, a story that wasn’t my own. But, this time I had troubles finding a suitable book. I’ve read dozens of first pages. None clicked. I wondered what to do. I got a suspicion that my brain was being deliberately non-cooperative, that it set its default response to ‘negative’. It was not an option for me so I decided to try to engage my brain by choosing a book differently. It doesn’t need to click, I told myself. What I should do is pick some numbers, get a book from a shelf using those numbers and stick to it no matter the resistance.
I got Doctorow’s World Fair – a book I thought I would never read because it never appealed to me. (I am not sure why I have it in my library.)
It was hard – I struggled through the first twenty or thirty pages, but I endured and eventually got into the story.