There’s a moment right after I finish a novel that feels a little like waking up–drowsily disoriented but suddenly reminded of just how real the world is. For a while after that moment, the words keep coming, even though the book is closed. But it’s my story in those words, and in those first few minutes, I see my world through the eyes of the author. I hear the narration of my own movements, the turns of phrase, the descriptions of those around me: a boy, mousy but sharp, a girl with long hair and tired eyes, a woman whose smile ends at the point of her nose.
There’s something appealing about having someone else narrate your life. Sometimes, I think, it would be nice to just be a character in a book. Book characters, I figure, get a break from the constant movement of their world. If nobody’s reading, then it’s almost like they don’t exist.
Time is even further removed from a book than it is from us.
The problem with reading to escape, though, with letting someone else tell my story for a while–even if it’s only prose in my mind–is that it’s passive. Happiness, Aristotle says, is the virtuous activity of the soul. If he’s right, then passivity, glorious as it sometimes sounds, is worth nothing. It cannot bring happiness.
As pleasant as the dream is, it’s not real. Living someone else’s life for a while has its perks–empathy, for one thing–but staying there leaves you empty. Borrow the words, but there’s a reason universities hate plagiarism.