You are a child. Your reading-age is somewhere between Just So Stories and Robinson Crusoe. You are sitting on a window seat overlooking a leafy backyard. You have a blanket over your legs and your favorite book on your lap.
Out there, in the real world, your contemporaries are dealing with school, social pressures, parents, siblings, and homework.
But you are immune to all that because you have a book. While you are reading, the real world does not exist.
You are D’Artagnan engaged in swordplay in The Three Musketeers … Sherlock Holmes examining footprints with Dr. Watson … Dorothy consorting with munchkins in The Emerald City of Oz, and young Jim Hawkins sailing to Treasure Island with a scoundrel named Long John Silver.
You are French. You are British. You are American.
You are a boy, a girl, a man, a woman. You can do anything and be anyone. You are a shape shifter and a wizard. You fly. You sail. You dive. You duel. You are not at the mercy of parents, teachers, siblings, and friends.
Because you are developing tools of imagination that enable you to become the master of your own fate.
As an adult, you pick your own fights and slay your own dragons.
What one thing had enabled and encouraged you to survive the ecstasies and miseries of childhood so that you could accomplish all this?
I know. I know. Not all of us were lucky enough to be sitting at window seats with blankets on our knees and overlooking leafy backyards. Bu … whether we were reading on buses to and from school or perusing paragraphs with flashlights under tenement stairs … once our eyes hit the page, there were no limits to where we could go or what we dared to become.
Now, let me tell you a little about the classics. Things you already know, but that bear repeating.
Classics do not have stature because a bald-headed professor made an erudite pronouncement. They are not granted “classic-hood” because King Arthur knighted them with a glistening sword.
They attain their longevity and status for two reasons and two reasons only. One: They touch our minds. Two: They touch our hearts. And “our” here means universal. Readers in the Americas. Readers in India. Readers in Russia. Readers in Japan.
One of my contemporary heroes is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She was born to a strict Muslim family in Somalia, brought up in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, and in the name of religion, sexually mutilated when she was five years old. She fled to the West in order to escape an arranged marriage, and after a stint in Holland’s parliament, she immigrated to the United States.
It is no great surprise that her journey from slavery to freedom had a great deal to do with books. To quote from her autobiography, Infidel:
“We read 1984, Huckleberry Finn, The Thirty-Nine Steps … We imagined the British moors in Wuthering Heights, and the fight for racial equality in South Africa in Cry, the Beloved Country. An entire world of Western ideas began to take shape … All these books, even the trashy ones, carried with them ideas – races were equal, women were equal to men – and concepts of freedom, struggle, and adventure that were new to me … Heroines fell in love, they fought off family obstacles and questions of wealth and status, and they married the man they chose.”
The classics inform us. They expose injustices. They provide alternatives.
You do not have to have been born a black in Alabama to be horrified by Eliza’s slavery in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. You do not have to be Chinese to empathize with O-Lan’s arduous life in The Good Earth. And you do not have to be Persian to treasure “A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread, and Thou,” from The Rubáiyát by Omar Khayyám. Nor must you be a character in a Walt Disney movie to want dreams to come true and wooden puppets to come to life.
We all want slavery to be abolished, life to be easier, poetry to be sung, and Cinderella to find her handsome prince (yes. Fairytales can be classics, too!)
I am a writer. I am proud of what I do, and I hope that everybody falls in love with my books.
I am proudest, though, of the company that I keep. Proud that I share space on the bookshelf with tomes written by literary giants. Books with great themes, great sorrows, great hopes, great joys, and great inspirations. Books that can expand our horizons, make us better people, and give us the strength to treasure our independence, our imaginations, and our intellects.
Books nourish our hearts … our minds … our souls.
They are the shoulders that all of us stand on. They teach us to reach for the stars. To grab onto our dreams. To hold them tight. And to never, never, never let them go.
Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © 2014, Shelly Reuben - Adapted from a Guest Blog written for Qlovi.com