The Comfort Of Books And ReadingWithin the novel Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse there is a quote that I just absolutely love. It reads:
'These men, for whom life has no repose, live at times in their rare moments of happiness with such strength and indescribable beauty, the spray of their moment's happiness is flung so high and dazzlingly over the wide sea of suffering, that the light of it, spreading its radiance, touches others too with its enchantment. Thus, like a precious, fleeting foam over the sea of suffering arise all those works of art, in which a single individual lifts himself for an hour so high above his personal destiny that his happiness shines like a star and appears to all who see it as something eternal and their own dream of happiness.'
I suppose this is why literature means so much to me. In the scale of things, it is not too important. There are doctors who save peoples lives, engineers who create towns, teachers who want to educate the next generation, scientists who aim to eradicate disease, leaders who strive towards world peace. Author and books are nice little treasures but they are minor treasures in the scale of things....Well, at least to most people, but to me they are so much more than that. Literature is as tangible as a soap bubble. The characters don’t live nor breathe, they exist solely on the page, in this imaginary realm, yet the stories they tell matter to me. Living with borderline personality disorder and host of other mental health problems saps the energy, even the act of getting out of bed in the morning is an act of faith itself. While everyone breezes by, working, having fun, making money, drifting in and out of relationships, for myself, having the strength to just complete the day is sometimes all I can manage.
I suppose then that I have gravitated towards books because they provide a refuge for me. They distract me from myself and take my attention elsewhere offering escape. When I no longer want to be me, when I am running full tilt to escape myself, I can drift away with these stories. Of course, they don’t help in a crisis, in fact, they seem even ridiculous at such times, but when I am calm, they are a massive comfort and solace. More importantly, I see my own life reflected in the characters I am reading about. For example, I was reading Wuthering Heights and the character of Heathcliff I felt I could really understand. He is consumed by anger and hatred, he is manipulative, sadistic and self destructive, yet you can see that the way he acts is because of the deep suffering that he feels, which in turn stems from his childhood, I don’t identify particularly with his bad behavior but I do identify with the pain that is driving it. In Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the sea captain’s nightmarish journey is something forced upon him, a suffering which he does not deserve, yet must endure. Likewise in Frankenstein, the monster becomes a murderer, because he as been abandoned. His actions may not be forgivable but they are understandable on a certain level. I suppose, this is the beauty of tragedy; we can see our own lives are not dissimilar from the people that inhabit fiction. In Cormac Mccarthey’s The Road, we are told ‘the frailty of everything [is] revealed at last’, meaning, anyone of us can be brought low and made to suffer deep down in the dirt of life. Our own lives are a game of luck and circumstance, everything we are, comes from things outside our control, the environment, are genes, are background, and essentially life is unfair. Some people are made to suffer undeservedly, and literature tells me this but also that there are others like me. That every horror and pain that I have experienced has been felt before by other people, meaning there is an unbroken line of continuity that links my life to theirs. It is strangely comforting. There is a quote in Catcher in the Rye where Mr Vinson’s is talking to Holden. He states ‘Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them--if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry.’ I suppose it is poetry, because the best writers, not only offer us the kinship of pain, but more importantly offer us hope, our own ‘dream of happiness’ written onto the page.
For others it maybe listening to their favourite music, watching a particular film, looking at a piece of art, but for me its literature. I sometimes feel that the author’s and writers are the only ones that I feel I can understand and relate to. This, i suppose, is because I see my own thoughts reflected in theirs. Even if I feel completely alone sometimes I know I can always feel a sense of belonging in the books I read. I would encourage others who are suffering, and going through drama, to read books or listen to music, because it might just do for you what it does for me. That is, give me hope that tomorrow will be a better day.