Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Page Turning Underwater

My dad was a deep sea diver. Could go down for hours and not come up, if my mom would have let him. Granny was better at it, and there was nothing except the clock to tell her to come back up for air.  I guess I take after them, cause my mom can't stand it.  She has to live up here, in the real world, where things happen that are supposed to.  But not me... give me the depths of my imagination, and I'm all set.  Course, I have to get away from the electronic gadgets and visual whizbangs that constantly try to distract me.  And they do, most of the time.  I figured out that while I'm eating there's nothing else to distract me.  Definitely the easiest time for a dip is while eating.

Of course I'm not talking about wearing scuba gear and playing with the sharks.  A good reader never worries about saying anything without a layer or two of metaphors and imagery.  I remember being in the middle of the Mines of Moria, reading (or rereading) Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, on the way to getting an outdoor pool (what a disaster that was... never get an above-ground pool), and being so thoroughly engrossed that it took me a good 20 minutes to get back to reality.  It was like slowly coming up for air, because ascending too quickly will give you the bends.  

Then there was the day when I was sick with the flu, I think, because I had a 101° temperature, and the whole house was quiet, so I picked up the Illustrated Classic version of George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind and read it cover to cover in one afternoon.  I think going under kept me distracted from my sickness, and, like my brother who just sleeps his illnesses away, gave my body time to heal.  I absolutely loved the book... its calm, lyrical writing (which, as I have learned, is edited from a staccato 1800's Scottish to a more modern English), it's poignant ending, and upon reflection, the Allegorical meanings.

My favorite author to stay "underwater" with is Orson Scott Card.  I'd be reading, and reading, and reading, and then go to the kitchen for something to eat or drink, and while walking back to my bedroom, I would try and remember what amazing television show I was watching.  Turns out, of course, it was the movie going on in my head from the OSC book laying on my bed, waiting for me to finish.

I never understood why, in my dad's huge science-fiction/fantasy collection, there were few (if any) short story collections.  I mean, in school, we'd read short stories from Clifford D. Simak or Ray Bradbury, and they would be wonderful pieces of literature, a bite sized piece of glorious artwork (to mix metaphors).  You can't go wrong with Godwin's "Cold Equations," for pure science-fiction genius.  They are like watching an episode of The Twilight Zone or Star Trek, a snapshot of a universe, of a person's life.

But those metaphors don't work when it comes to reading, especially for my dad.  He read for escape, to immerse himself in a world and forget about this one for a while.  Same thing for my grandmother, who read for hours at a time.  And using this metaphor, that of going underwater, it's obvious why there were no short story collections in my dad's library.  Imagine going scuba diving in the clear, tropical waters of the Caribbean, with fish and underwater treasures everywhere. A world so different from ours, magical, in a way.  You could stay down there for hours, taking in everything under the waves.  Now imagine that instead of scuba gear, all you had was the breath you could hold, for thirty seconds at a time.  You couldn't follow a fish as it hides among the coral, or a small shark as it hunts for prey.  Rather, you just get glimpses of wonderment, and then it's back to the surface to breathe again.  Those are short stories to my dad.  Short stories don't provide an extended look into a world, into the entire lives of characters.

While I understand that, there are still amazing short stories that rival the best Twilight Zone episodes, if you know what authors can truly take those snapshots (mixed metaphor again) and make them memorable.  Right now I'm reading The Anything Box by Zenna Henderson, and I'm trying to figure out how she isn't Ray Bradbury.  That's how good she is, providing short, intense looks into the world of the supernatural, the unknown, and leaving each story screaming for a continuation. The only problem with short stories is that they "force" you to come up for air every time you finish a story, which I am not often ready to do yet.  And in today's world where escape is so desired, short stories just don't accomplish what long, meandering novels do.  But perhaps instead of lengthening the stories, we should adjust our reading habits, seeing beauty in short dives, and seeing the same beauty in the real world between times.

So in between those long dives into tomes deep, dark, and enchanting, maybe just a short trip, in the shallows of the human imagination.  Believe me, reading those stories will bring just as much magic as the 1000 page books that I go diving with each day.

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