As some of you know, last weekend was the Baltimore Book Festival. It’s usually held at Mt. Vernon (can you imagine?) but this year it relocated to the Baltimore Inner Harbor. The Inner Harbor is a fun place to visit, full of food, boats, water, people and, if the weather is right, sun. This weekend it was also full of tents featuring books by the thousands. Authors were on hand everywhere to chat, to sign, to interact and generally meet and greet. And I was one of them.
Believe it or not, I’ve never been to a book festival before. I’d never even heard of one until this one popped up on my radar. It was basically like an outdoor convention, with stages for authors to do readings, panel discussions, etc. Before my shift in the booth I was wandering the festival and happened on Marissa Meyer, author of the Lunar Chronicles, giving a talk. (If you haven’t read Cinder, Cress, and Scarlet, you’re missing out. So much win!) I sat in the audience and behaved like a total fan girl, and it was a blast.
Later, in the booth where my books joined many others by local authors, I noticed that people strolled by, staring at the books on the tables they passed as if they were unknown creatures prone to violence. Some actively walked sideways to avoid coming too close. It became obvious very quickly that most of the people at the Inner Harbor that day were there for lunch, or dinner, or just to stroll. They’d had no idea there’d be a festival and, more importantly, they don’t read. Ever. One person who drifted too close to the table responded to the question “do you read?” with a scowl and pursed lips as though she’d eaten something particularly nasty.
I have to admit, it made me sad. It still does, a full three days later.
Not because I’m an author, and trying to make a living telling stories that I hope people will enjoy, but because I can’t imagine a life without books. A life without stories that take my mind to new and exotic places. A life without reading…is no life at all. Not to me. I write, but I also read. I’ve already surpassed my goal of 50 books for the year and I don’t plan on stopping. When I finish a book, I immediately start another one. My regret is that clearly we don’t live long enough to enjoy All The Books.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of movies, too. And TV shows. And plays. I’m a fan of story, no matter how it’s delivered. I think each and every delivery system has a place and appeals to a different portion of our minds and hearts. That includes books. Reading is the only one where you, the reader, engage directly with the story via words the author left behind. It’s a mind-meld, over time and distance. Just you, and the author, and a mind filled with characters and adventures as big as the universe. In your mind, you can envision it exactly as you wish it to be. Guided by the author, you can enter that fantasy and be the hero, or the villain, or the cat in the corner. You can be anyone, or anything. You don’t have to choose, you can be it all. And it’s there for the taking, any time you open a book or pick up an e-reader. When I’m reading, the world disappears. When I’m reading, the fact that I haven’t done the dishes or that horrible things are going on somewhere in the world takes a back seat. In a book, I can lose myself, and I can find myself, too. In a book, I can live on a distant planet and have telepathic powers. I can discover a new life form, cure cancer, kill a demon, or save a child. In the “real world” I’m just one person, but in a book I’m thousands. In the “real world” I probably don’t have much impact on the world around me. But in a book…oh in a book, I can save the world.
It makes me sad that someone would view something so wonderful as anything distasteful. I wonder where their childhood went wrong, that reading became torture instead of pleasure. It makes me sad for the woman I saw that day and her scrunched up, sour expression. The pain in her eyes, the stress on her face, might be lifted if only she’d be wiling to take a journey with a good book. It makes me sad for the others like her, who maybe didn’t scowl but definitely avoided anything having to do with a book. I can’t even fathom what they do with their days or how they cope with the madness of life.
I know I’m preaching to the choir here on my blog. I know the ones reading this are ones who already love reading. I hope, if we all band together, we can teach the children in our lives about how wonderful reading is. It starts there. So hug the kids in your life and read with them. Give them this most precious gift…the love of reading. It’ll be something that will sustain them for a lifetime.