After breakfast this morning, I joined my wife in a loft bedroom with wood-beamed roof and windows that look out on a snowy mountainside, the wind stirring swirls of powder, the cold filtering through the window at my back. I did something I find almost impossible to do at home. I am reading. I don’t mean that skimming, flitting kind of reading you do before you go to bed at night, when it is all you can do to stay awake for ten minutes, when the day’s affairs still lurk in the corner of your mind. I mean the kind of reading where you dive deep and come up breathless, having seen wonders in words of worlds, leaving behind your day and entering into someone else’s day.
C.S. Lewis said that reading should be about receiving, and that takes time. He says that that “here [literature], as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; am never more myself than when I do.” In other words, you have to lose yourself when you read in order to save yourself, to change, to be moved and transformed.
I felt that way after three solid hours of reading this morning. If you read that long, it takes time to come back to yourself, to reality. I’ve been reading a series of short stories from the last two issues of an excellent journal, Ruminate, and the characters that inhabited those stories are still restlessly haunting my mind, even as I pack to leave. Overweight Bowen and body-pierced Candy are still stuck at the top of the Ferris wheel, the middle-aged man given a bit of hope by the questions and encouragement of a a teenage girl. I imagine him walking off the page and back into life just a little stronger, a little more hopeful.
Winding through the Blue Ridge mountains, through valleys not fully touched by the hues of Fall, we’re quiet, each one in their own thoughts, mine thinking about Charlie Cooper, a middle-aged man still living until recently with his mother, who, on her death, is lost until he discovers bowling. That’s right --- bowling. Charlie discovers something he can actually do and do well, and it gives him new hope. Eating lunch at a cafe on the main street of Waynesville, with some uppity name like Creviche, I’m not all there, still moved by the story of the unnamed 12-year old boy who has a Dad in a wheelchair but who is the fastest runner in his neighborhood. There’s some kind of disconnect between he and his Dad that I can’t quite fathom, and so it still rolls over and over in my brain, even as I talk with my family.
Each story is like a window into another world, a window you can never quite close once you open it, the air of that other reality forever changing the world in which I live. I’ll eventually forget most of these stories, of course, but certain images will stick, and when I think of them it’ll be like a visit with a friend I rarely see. I’m glad to know them. In some way or ways that I cannot fathom, much less express, I’m changed by them.
Up ahead is the French Broad River, then Asheville, birthplace of author Thomas Wolfe. I should probably read his story: “Look Homeward, Angel.”
“Don’t miss your exit,” I hear. And I don’t. In a moment I’m back, back to a wife and two kids and Charlotte Street and the mountains --- back to this world, just a little different.