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How Books Reforge Reality

One of the hardest things I’ve had to overcome while in quarantine is the inability to go anywhere. It’s summer, I’m off from college and I’m supposed to be out hanging with friends until ungodly hours in the morning and then sleeping until noon! I’m not supposed to be trapped inside bored out of my mind.

Luckily for me though, only my body isn’t allowed to leave my house. My mind is still free to roam wherever it may please. And for that reason, whenever I wanna go outside anywhere, I pick up (if you read the title of this blog you know what I’m about to say) a book.

I know it’s been said time and time again that reading can transport you to different worlds, but it’s true. No matter how tired we get of people telling us this, we can’t deny the fact that they’re right.

However, the saying of books transporting us to different worlds is fundamentally FLAWED. It’s too literal and genre exclusive- and ultimately, I think that it can actually discourage us from reading.

As soon as we hear the words different world and adventure, I think our minds automatically assume that we have to be reading fiction in order for this to work and that’s a problem. Not all of us enjoy fiction. Some of us enjoy philosophical texts, others biographies, some of us read poetry, the list goes on and on. Books like these don’t bring us to new worlds. They reshape our reality.

That’s what the saying should be changed to. Books reshape our reality.

For example, I just finished reading The Book of Five Rings, which is a manifesto written in 1643 by the samurai Miyamoto Musashi on his style of swordplay. I can promise you that I was not transported back to this time period where I was face to face with a master samurai giving me instructions on how to handle a sword (or two swords, in the style of Musashi). Instead I remained on my bed, underneath my covers. But what did happen was I learned about the philosophy behind swordsmanship and how it applies to my own reality. That is where the “teleportation” to another world took place. My reality transformed, and thus I had arrived at someplace new. Sure I hadn’t been taken to a world with dragons and magic, or aliens and space warfare, but I had been granted a new insight, a new lens through which I could look at reality. And that is just as fascinating!

I think when people hear the saying, reading transports you to a different world, they sit down and expect that when they pick up a book they’re going to be brought to an alternate dimension where they have to relearn everything. When that doesn’t happen, they assume they aren’t doing something right and give up. Next time you sit down and read, try looking for this new world via the lens I have presented. Look for how the book affects your own reality. Can you draw a comparison to any of the characters, is there an event which replicates the climax of the book within your own life? Does the book offer any insights into reality you have never thought about before? It’s in these aspects that reading truly can remove us from our world and place us in another.

When Musashi drew a comparison between wielding a sword and the philosophies behind it to more modern tasks, that sense of entrapment which quarantine had imprinted onto me vanished. Rather than just continuing my day with the same perspective I had as yesterday, I had a new outlook. I began to see how other activities I performed, even how I thought related to what I had read within The Book of Five Rings. Because of this new insight my reality changed. Not by a lot, but just tiny enough that it felt like I had indeed been transported somewhere new. And that new place was my changed reality.

Today, try sitting down and reading something, and rather than trying to force it to take you someplace drastically new, try seeing how it changes your reality. Then rejoice in the difference of your newfound perspective.

- Jonathan Holden


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