Why We Read, or the Sorrow of the Final Page

Books, I believe, are like people. They come into our lives at a certain time, engaging our thoughts and sympathies and filling a void we didn’t know existed until we let them go one day.

There are a billion different kinds of books. There are the ones we keep and cherish till the end of time and beyond. Their characters turn into friends for a lifetime whom we know as deeply as we know ourselves, sometimes even better than that. The pages are worn-out but filled with precious memories. Of the morning we drank coffee in the busy street café in Rome, of the afternoon we stayed on the beach while the sand was brutally stinging into our skin, of the day we read and re-read our favourite passage until our eyes were blind with tears…

There are the ones we like to keep for company. We’ll turn to them for advice and consolation. Their characters’ wisdom restores a feeling of comfort in times of doubt and self-imposed sorrow. We bond over similar experiences, solaced by the idea that we are not alone in this world but bound together by a deeper understanding of life and our weird place in it. We keep them on a pedestal; characters whom we trust with our lives because they have fought the same battles…
There are the ones that momentarily brighten our worlds like shooting stars. They demand our undivided attention as they consume us, fully and with characteristic immoderation, but they are gone as quickly as they came. We admire their effortless beauty and the interplay of time and space, but we take comfort in knowing that they won’t be our last or greatest love. If we keep our eyes open we will find another one like them again…

Like people, each book has its own perks and quirks, its own little insecurities, hidden scars, and temptations. Each time I open a book I think of it like opening a door, and each time I start reading I find myself at the threshold of another world. It’s an offer each time, an invitation to enter. Sometimes we read the first page or maybe the first chapter of a book and realise it’s not for us. So we walk back. And we close that door again. But sometimes we stumble on, all of the sudden driven by another force that we can’t quite grasp or understand, but we keep going — turning one page after the other. And we find ourselves so deep in this world, lost and found and understood at the same time, that we wish it was our own; that this was the world we lived in while our real lives were the fruits of someone’s imagination.

It’s the harshest and the most beautiful lesson all at once. Because eventually, we get to the final page where a story we so desperately wanted to believe in comes to an end. And we stumble again, this time in a different direction. As the silence lingers, we are overcome by a loneliness that feels worse than anything we have felt before. We are filled by an emptiness so excruciating it equals the loss of a friend, a companion, a soul mate. A character whom we thought of as a person — one that we felt close to on so many different levels; one that was capable of expressing just what we felt but always failed to put in words. All of the sudden their silence lingers — louder than our own thoughts and worries that seem more trivial than ever.

Where is the beauty in that, we might think in the initial moment of loss and sorrow. But as the days go by, we return to the fond memories of the beginning. We remember the threshold, and we begin to understand the greater lesson these books are teaching us. Because the experience was real.

We are not isolated. We are not alone. We belong.



Photo Credit: Lucy Marti via Flickr cc

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