When was the last time that you curled up with a good book in front of the fire?
I'm not a fan of e-readers. I like an actual book. I like the tactile experience. I like to be able to take notes in the margins. I like the smell of a book. I like the way a book is type-set when it is done well. Groucho Marx said that outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. He then noted that inside of a dog, it is too dark to read.
Some books seem ideally suited to a particular time and place. For some reason I like reading Russian novels in the winter. To read a russion novel, it somehow seems like it should be snowing, and there should be a fire going in the background. In order for reading to feel like a Restorative Practice, our attitude towards it must be restorative. There is a difference, for me, between reading something for pleasure, and studying. Reading, in the restorative practices sense, is reading done for pleasure. What kind of books do you like to read?
It's good to know this about yourself. What do you find relaxing? Do you like reading fiction? Or memoirs? Or things that are historical? Do you like reading books that present an exhaustive history of something? How Salt Changed the World. A Brief History of Everything Living in Your Toilet. You have to know what you like. Some people can read philosophy restoratively. Some people read it to take a nap.
What about books with pictures? One of my favorite books–through the lens of restorative practice–is called Cabin Porn. It contains reader-submitted photos of small cabins people have built around the world. It's beauty is in their simplicity, their immersion in nature. I open the book and feel more relaxed. There's a beautiful little book I have, written by Marlee Grace, called How to Not Always Be Working: A Toolkit for Creativity and Radical Self-Care. I like it because I love the title, and because when I read it I have the feeling there is someone else out there who understands me. This is a comfort.
The power of books is to take us somewhere else. If storytelling is the original virtual reality, books are the original movie. As a child I remember the magic of being transported to another place and time within a story. And part of the magic of a book is that unlike a movie, which does the work of imagining for you, in a book you have to create the world in your mind. This process is so deeply innately human that I don't know a person who hasn't been disappointed by some movie version of a cherished book from childhood. You find yourself thinking–Wait a minute. Gandalf doesn't look like that! or Dumbledore doesn't look like that. Or, How come Dumbledore looks like Gandalf?
I'm very grateful for good books, for good writing, and for good translation. What a blessing to be able to read a book written in another language, perhaps hundreds or even thousands of years ago. There's an old Saturday Night Live skit (an American sketch comedy show) where they talk about the greatest conversation stopper of all time. This is something you might say at a party that is so awkward the conversation just dies out completely. My vote would be the burning of the great library at Alexandria in 48 BC. This library held much of the learning of the so-called ancient world. What a blessing to live in a moment I can sit down with a book in English and learn the mind of Lao-tzu, a contemporary of Confucius who lived 2500 years ago, and wrote in a language I don't yet speak. We treat this like it is ordinary, but for much of human history this has not been possible. In the rare book library at Yale University is a Gutenberg bible, one of the earliest major books printed using mass-produced movable metal type in Europe. It marked the start of the "Gutenberg Revolution" and the age of printed books in the West. This happened around the year 1454. Prior to that time, every book was hand produced by scribes. We take it for granted that we can walk into a bookstore and just buy a book, often with little thought to how much labor is involved in the creation of one. I've written a number of books, and it is an effort to form a good sentence, to write a good story.
As a writer I want to express my gratitude for the growing abundance of literary fiction being produced by writers of color, writing from non-European perspectives, and for the writings of women generally (also to those who are publishing it–perhaps it has been being produced the whole time). Who writes the story shapes the world. The writerly gaze determines what we see. We can say that polyvagally, who we are in a familial context, in a sociological context, shapes our experience, and this experience shapes what we see. What I, as a white man see, hear, and feel, is shaped by my whiteness and maleness in ways I don't fully understand because I can't step out of those locations easily. When I have the good fortune to read a story, or enter into a world created by a woman writer, or a writer of color, or a writer from another culture, or background, not only do I grow by learning about their experience, but I come to know my own better. This is the same reason we recommend learning another language, visiting a country where you don't speak the language, and simply traveling internationally. Anytime we visit a place where our experience isn't centered, we learn about someone else and we learn about who we are. We stand in solidarity with a multiplicity of voices, weaving a tapestry of both shared and differentiated experiences. Tell your story! The world needs new stories. They feed our souls.
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