In keeping with the tradition I set up in my very first post yesterday (and a long and honored tradition it is), I’m going to continue wondering if my reading habits are hurting me. It occurred to me while trying to work out why I’m simultaneously obsessed with LOTR and struggling to force myself through it (I’m halfway through The Two Towers, and it’s my first reading of the series—more on that in another post) that I spend a lot of my limited reading time reading things that are extremely time and labor intensive. While I can—and still do—read shorter, easier books, such as Animal Farm and On The Road, I’ve been wrapped up in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time for months now; when I decided I needed a break between books 11 and 12, I naturally reached for….The Lord of the Rings. Yeah, that’s right. I would say, with absolutely no scientific backing whatsoever, that you cannot find a more potentially engrossing series than LOTR. Besides the trilogy, there’s The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and Unfinished Tales (this is what my LOTR-expert roommate tells me encompasses the canon of LOTR). And this is what I chose when I wanted a “break” from WOT, which, while not as popular as LOTR, is at least as time and labor intensive to read if not more. Fourteen books (the final slated for release next year), over 1500 characters (at least 10 of whom can be considered “main characters”) and a geography that, if real, would cover all of North America. It’s out of control. It’s the type of series that I can only read at home, because I still refuse to get a smartphone and I can’t read the series without the wiki page open, because I cannot keep track of the characters. I love it. But it’s exhausting. And I needed a break. And I chose Lord of the Rings to give me that break. Is there something wrong with me?
I sink into these false worlds the way I sink into my bed on a cold winter night. I draw an intense comfort from then, from having an entirely new world to escape to, where my job doesn’t exist and nobody has to pay rent on their new apartment and the problems matter so much more than they do in the real world. I would rather like vicariously through Aragorn or Elayne Trakand, and try to save the world with them, than pay my cable bill do the dishes. I sometimes fantasize about ignoring my alarm, and just continuing to read rather than going to work. Even though I don’t, I sometimes find that I can recall facts about Randland before I can recall my schedule for the week.
I have to defend myself here. Yes, I might be using books to escape the things that I dislike about my real life—I’ve been doing this for over 20 years now, I don’t think I’m going to stop now. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Everyone needs their escape. EVERYONE. Some people drink wine (alright, alright, I’m in that category too). Others play violent video games, or cut themselves, or take their anger and frustration out on their partners and children. In 30 Rock, Liz Lemon’s is eating junk food, and when Pete’s alone time is taken away he starts sticking pushpins into himself. I choose to engage in an activity that brings me, I feel, closer to humanity. I connect with Tolkein and Jordan by reading their very thoughts, an act Stephen King once described as mind reading. And I have an instant connection with anyone who has ever read either of these series—in particular to fans of Jordan, for we seem to be few and far between. In my mind, forging a connection with humanity is a good that overrides any bad I may be doing to myself by ignoring my real life problems by burying them in literature.