27. Why Read?
I have what can only be referred to as Magical Realism Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which gives me the great pleasure of thrilling highs while I’m in the throes of a Louis de Bernieres, and a crushing, soul-destroying depression when I’m not. I scour bookshops, and paw at the covers of books that promise a journey into the deepest jungles of South America, where I might learn how to cast spells from a 300-year-old Indian and where it’s totally normal to have a giant black jaguar as a pet. The compulsion finds me boring through a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez to the detriment of my social life and personal relationships – you, my dear, can’t give me anything this book cannot. It’s a deeply personal obsession.
I’ve thought a lot about why I dive so deeply into books, especially those of magical realism, and why when I think about getting lost in one, I think of a wardrobe, doors through which I escape into another world. Perhaps the image of a wardrobe relates to a room in a house where a family reside, and it seems the most simple reason for my reading is to explore familial situations I’ve never had the joy of experiencing. In books like One Hundred Years of Solitude and Of Love and Shadows, I find great comfort in exploring the stories of storied families who have survived for generations on grit and honour.
As I build up in my head my desire for a family, and whether or not it is something I’ll ever really have, these books deliver me into the bosom of a mother who was never actually there, and impart on me words of wisdom from an overbearing father who doesn’t spend his time searching for his own answers at the bottom of the bottle. In books like The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, I raise a gaggle of children who tug at my shirt tails and climb onto my shoulders as I prepare dinner, and who I boil in a bath of tea so they go to bed smelling of peppermint. I build a home with my bare hands and spend years turning it into a home that I will pass on to my children, who will live with me there until I push them away because of my cloying love, and who will return because they can’t live without it.
Books introduce us to authors with hopes and dreams and fears just like ours. In my case, and as with any Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, my voracious appetite for books is borne of a void. Each time I read a novel exploring the intricacies of family life and of love, the void feels a little less big, the pills of truth easier to swallow because of the inebriating effects of magical realism.