The Journey Beyond Ourselves

I’ve been thinking a lot about books. The books I’m writing, the books I’m reading, the books I’m eagerly and quasi-patiently waiting to read, and the grand collection of books I have read.

What do they all have in common? My brain asked me as I wandered through my thoughts.

My first thought was nothing. There are various scriptures, Dr. Suess, Terry Pratchett, H.P. Lovecraft, Marissa Mayer, Brandon Sanderson, and an occasional graphic novel or manga. I like to think I’ve got a decent variety.

Then my brain got all persistent. Are they really so uncommon? There’s not a single thread that trails through all of them?

Well, that opened up a whole new thought to explore. So, I did. Instead of pulling out another WIDWISHBPA post, I pondered. And what I came up with was probably the great big idea that support all of literature throughout all of time. Not that I’m unveiling new information. Just… understanding myself, I think. That’s always an exciting thing.

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So, here’s the deal: All of literature, from the myths of old to the cheap, sleazy magazine articles of today, bear the promise of perspective. I’ve got my neat little collection thoughts and beliefs mingled with some ignorance and lightly garnished with a mix of fear, faith, hope, stupidity, wonder, and genius. Collectively, everyone else gives this the title of “my perspective.” (Note I said hope. There are some articles and stories I’m still pretty sure don’t have the promise of perspective. Barely the promise of plot.) Now matter how much I try, I can’t have something other than my perspective. Every time I encounter something new, it either becomes a part of my perspective or something fills that little gap to prevent that exact pin from finding its place.

The closest any of us can get to something not my perspective is through the direct encounters with someone else’s. Some dress it up in fiction, others use memoirs or biographies, some even use jokes. Once we look past the words, we start to see images, and when we look past the images, we see morals. Just past the morals we see the perspective, and it’s a foreign, unfamiliar thing. The one thing that is completely not us. It’s big enough that it can’t readily be assimilated or blocked, but there are parts that are familiar. And that interests us on a sub-primal, collective unconscious kind of level.

At the same time, that can scare us, more than sitting down to write that first draft of the book you want to write. It’s foreign, which is as natural as the fear of the dark or clowns. It’s something outside the familiar. So, reading becomes just that tiny test of faith in humanity, a wind against our courage to see just how tough we are as people. You’ve seen the entire spectrum, I’m sure. The collective of people trying to ban Harry Potter because it “promotes witchcraft” to the people that have book reviews of every genre and can find something to like in every book.

As I write this, I’m listening to Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett, and also more than halfway through The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs. I could very well spend my entire life reading every kind of book and barely read the tiniest segment of the collected perspectives available in the world, though I would have an impressive Goodreads account. It’s big enough to scare anybody, but big enough to enchant everyone.

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