I’ve been asked to contribute five hundred words or so to the Scottish Book Trust’s essay contest. Participants are required to write a feel-good tale about that one special book that saved their soul from infernal damnation and led them along the path of righteousness. The most gut-wrenching glot of heart-rending bunk earns a place in their anthology.
Do you detect a shade of cynicism in my voice? Yes, you do. Why so? Well, inquisitive voice-in-my-head, I’ll tell thee.
I have yet to read that elusive life-changing book. Perhaps I’m an unfeeling robot with a man-heart made from mashed potato and binder twine, but I don’t really believe in the life-changing book experience.
I read books for the following reasons:
1. Intellectual stimulation and emotional provocation.
2. To be taken on a gallop through the fantabulous superhighways of another person’s imagination.
3. To help understand the unfathomable enigma of the human condition and to help me become a less misanthropic wazzock.
4. To expose myself to the boundless wonder of language and what is achievable through clacking ideas onto a page and binding them together with the beautiful adhesive of words.
5. I have nothing else to do and my social life is practically nonexistent.
Now, one might argue this leaves plentiful scope for a life-changing experience. Not so. See, novels influence my life. They influence my actions, my thoughts, my decisions. However, they don’t physically change anything. That is, for me. I wouldn’t dare express this as a generalisation.
Had I not read Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment when I was 16, my life wouldn’t be radically any different to how it is now. I might never have discovered the cockspurting magnificence of the Russian master, but chances are another novelist would have filled his formidable boots. My natural interest in Russian writers would have brought me to him sooner or later.
Crime & Punishment is the one book that qualifies as a ‘life-changing’ experience, though I consider it more the first moment I instantly clicked with an author and understood their work totally and utterly. No life-changing experience. Just blissful comprehension.
Life-changing experiences, not to state the obvious, happen in life. Yes – I stated the obvious. We trip over a brick and get run over by a Ford Focus. Life-changing. We shoot President Bush through the temple with an airgun. Life-changing. We meet our life partners, get married, start our dream jobs, and have three kids all in the same afternoon. Somewhat life-changing.
I suppose I’m envious of the reader who completes a novel, has a eureka moment, then goes on to live their life in the shadow of the book. That’s an experience I would thoroughly dislike to have. Who wants an author to have that much control over their free will?
That’s divine power, sister. Best keep away.