I keep hearing it said in the grocery aisle, while I wait for my waiter to bring the main course, and on deserted streets in Maine (now that summer is over and the tourists have fled) that the 19th-century novel had more moral complexity and social subtext than contemporary novels and allowed 19th-century readers to make sense of the world they lived in. Now it’s the triumvirate of TV, radio, and the Web that reigns supreme, it seems, when we need to shape our moral landscape and define ourselves as social animals in the 21st century.
My response to that is: “There’s more to life than books, you know, but not much more.”
OK, besides the faulty programming system that religion imposed on me as a young boy and the best laid schemes of my parents, school, and the BBC, the social and moral fabric of my being owes much, if not all, to books (music, too — of which I may well write about later).
I read, therefore I am, is my logos — said at the beginning and at the end of the universe.
The countless authors whose work has educated, amused, entertained, challenged, enlightened, broadened, corrected, and enlarged the shallow “I” that I live through are the ones I credit with my life beyond an unimaginative one: the one of facts and figures, the “cold clockwork of the stars and nations” (Ted Hughes), the one of time disciplines, the one of seeping realism that wants to set its cement between my atoms.
Which is not to say I go to books to seek out some better way to live or some better way to think or some better way to act or some better emotional life, what I’m saying is that what I read matters, it sinks in, it coats, it feeds, it breathes. It all goes in, and between my brain and my balls, some magic happens.
And as it happens, invention is always more interesting than reality, anyway.
Nietzsche said: “What is good is easy; everything divine runs on light feet.”
Writer Russell Hoban responded: “Yeah, right. It’s easy for dead guys to talk bollocks.”