One thing that makes reading so enormously appealing is the escape factor. Even if you’re reading non-fiction, you might be reading about a race against time to understand and cure an epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Or daily life for fishery workers in a remote Northern European community. Or the unraveling and exposure of a hot political scandal at the White House. In short, reading need not bear any actual resemblance to reality at all – at least not our own. It gives us glimpses into the unusual, the unlikely, and often the impossible.
So why not take it a step further and dip our toes into the truly indulgent? If you could instantly send yourself into the plot of any novel, where would you find yourself? Scurvy-riddled on the high seas in the pages of Treasure Island? Living on the Island of Dr. Moreau among the beast-men? Maple-sugaring in the snow with Laura Ingalls Wilder? In the midst of a steamy hookah-fueled Parisian orgy with Anais Nin? Attending the hatching of a clutch of dragon eggs on Pern? Some books are so richly detailed, and the authors so skilled at building scenarios and worlds that we automatically envision them, create them in our minds, even wish for them.
So what would my literary dream wish list be? Well for starters, I have never in my life wanted to be someone’s best friend as badly as I longed for Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne Shirley. But then, I also had a fierce literary crush on Gilbert Blythe, so Anne’s and my kindred spirit bonding may not have been successful in the long-term.
I would give my left arm (okay, my smallest toe) to attend a Mark Twain reading, or even sit on the porch with him and talk long into the hot Missouri evening over mint juleps. The more I read and learn about Twain, the more disappointed I am that I will never meet him. His humour, his stories, his politics and his way with words would surely make for a lot of laughter.
Oh, how beautiful the world of comics would be if Bill Watterson and Gary Larson had kept going just another year or three. Meanwhile Jim Davis could have retired Garfield when the strip was still funny, a couple of decades ago, letting the orange meatball remain in our hearts with a fond thought, rather than eliciting boos and groans long after it should have ended. That dead horse was black and blue.
And imagine if – remember, this is my anything-goes fantasy wish list here – I could go back in time to change the face of literary history forever. If I could befriend J.K. Rowling while she’s sitting in that Edinburgh cafe, maybe I could offer helpful suggestions in exchange for 1% of her future profits (you know, if anyone cares about a boy wizard). I could likewise befriend Anita Shreve and convince her that writing is for schmucks, and she has the makings of a great dentist, thereby saving my future self an enormously tedious few hours with The Pilot’s Wife.
In terms of fictional characters, I would love a therapy session (which I clearly need, given that when faced with the opportunity to time-travel, I mostly wish to do evil for personal gain) with Berger, the psychiatrist from Judith Guest’s masterpiece of family and coping Ordinary People.
I would love to be a teacher in Up the Down Staircase, exchanging notes with Sylvia Barrett about our weirder, more charming, and more troubled students, and chatting in the staff room. I would love to buy my partner this £7775 first edition set of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. I would love to use that time machine once more to meet young Oprah Winfrey and tell her that one day, when she has the idea to start a book club, it’s a great idea – but maybe she could consider an occasional cheerful book without the prerequisite murder, incest and crushing poverty?
Oh, I could go on all day. ‘Tis the season for wishes coming true and all that, so you never know. Consider this column my letter to Santa.
The Princess Bride
Westley, Farm Boy, the Dread Pirate Roberts - whatever you call him, he's dreamy.
If you've read any of Thompson's work, you'll be familir with the frenetic, relentless pacing. One could hope the reading would dissolve into paranoid ranting. High entertainment value.