It has been awhile since I have read a novel or a story that has made every part of me come alive. There are certain books that, once picked up, I am unable to put down or think of anything else until I have known them in their entirety. And then, after reading for anywhere from 4-16 hours straight, I am unable to sleep because I am so wrapped up in the magic, and when I do finally drift off, my dreams are filled with vivid scenes spiraling out of my imagination from the pages of these beautiful treasures.
La sombra del viento/The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is one such book. (Excuse my inability to properly accent at the moment.) I happened upon this book accidentally, and as soon as I started reading, like with many books before it, I am absolutely amazed that I didn't know it sooner. The book is set in Barcelona, which automatically makes me love it due to the familiarity of street corners and forgotten plazas I spent my four months there exploring. There is something so thrilling of being able to see the places in my mind, as they really are and how I can then imagine them to be 60 years ago, in the time period of the novel. Not to mention the nostalgia and memories these images evoke of my time in the city, and the little glimmers of understanding I was just beginning to glean from its ancient buildings and reserved people. It always amazes me, those moments when a book (or a poem, play, song, work of art) comes to me at just the right moment, in such a way that I can't imagine having never known it before this point, when it is exactly what I need to the point of being magical.
Rather than write an in-depth review and then tell everyone to go read this book (though if you are at all like me you definitely should!), I just want to reflect on the experience of reading and the way it feels when I really fall into a book and can't come out for awhile. I had this experience for the first time probably when I was about 3 years old, and though I am told I couldn't possibly remember this, I remember the first book I could ever 'read'- Scary, Scary Halloween. It was a kids book that I made my parents read to me so much that I memorized it and would 'read' (recite) it to everyone and anyone who would listen. Thus is my first memory of my love of books.
Getting involved in a story that sparks a multitude of memories, emotions, and moments where you forget to breathe does incredible things for me. It's amazing that I can get involved to a point where the entire world disappears and only the world between the pages is real. It makes me sad, sometimes, when I meet a person and discover that she or he doesn't enjoy reading. I wonder how and why she or he has been denied this pleasure that all who are fortunate enough to be literate should be granted. I understand that life is busy, that television is easier, that some books may be boring at certain times. But the right one is out there, just waiting to be discovered by you.
Besides a beautifully complex story filled with multi-layered intrigue (oh dear my inner book-reviewer is coming out), there were several lines in this book that really resonated with my deep passion for books. On page 8, it says (in the translated version that I have) "few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart." (Or HER heart!) That first book has found its way into my heart through many different novels, many different stories that always speak of magic and mythology and love and nature. The same sort of stories always call to me, speak to my imagination and fill me with a wonder and inspiration that I will dedicate my life to encouraging and cultivating, even when the world tells me I am silly. Find the stories that inspire you and seek them out with an open heart.
Another quote at the very end of the book, on page 484: "[A character] says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it's an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day."
Everything about this rang so true with me. I fear the death of reading, the slow, tortured funeral procession of great literature. I hope for a revival of the joy of reading and storytelling, the reawakening of the imagination and the wonderfulness that is out there in the realities we have yet to create. Don't let this beauty die out; close your eyes and remember a feeling, a moment, a story, a dream that filled your entire heart and mind. Hold on to that feeling and return to it as often as possible. Keep your imagination alive and thriving.
When you do find a story that speaks to you, remember that it only shows us what we already are, the parts of us that we accept and those that we hide from. Don't shy away from it. Read a book that makes you laugh out loud or causes tears to spill from your eyes. Do it in public. Be moved.