An Addiction Worth Cultivating
One finds extraordinary things in books. Occasionally, they have nothing to do with what the book is about. I found such an item in one of the driest economics texts ever written (A History of Interest Rates by Sydney Homer). Buried in the Introduction under Credit in Ancient Times is the following quote, translated from a three- to four-thousand-year-old Assyrian tablet:
“Our earth is degenerate in these latter days; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book, and the end of the world is evidently approaching.”
Has the world changed so much in four thousand years? Not only is it eerily relevant, but even back then, everyone wanted to write a book. Nothing seems to have changed on that score.
Why do people want to write books? On the other hand, why do people want to read them?
I have puzzled over this relationship.
As a reader, I am constantly searching for a book that moves me. The books I pick up fall into one of three categories:
1. The ones I don’t finish. These are books I can’t get into, are poorly written, or they start great and then fall flat.
2. The books I finish. These kept me going, and I end up liking them, but I don’t always love them.
3. The books I love. These are the books that make reading an addiction worth cultivating. They are special books, and they are always novels.
As a writer of mystery, I want to connect with the reader in a magical way. As a reader, I want that connection as well, yet that extraordinary intersection happens only rarely. How come? There is a mathematical explanation that is interesting, but in this post I will offer a different explanation.
Life is contextual. What happens before shapes what happens after. The Western world has embraced the single cause, the linear. Who did it? Why did they do it? How did they do it? Eastern thought embraces a wider look. How did the person arrive at the point to become a victim in the first place? Within a wider context, a crime can have multiple causes. This adds complexity. What is originally black and white takes on additional tonal values. What is good? What is bad? Are they so very different?
The word “mystery” has its roots in the Greek muein, to close the eyes or lips. Whether this refers to the appearance of the mystic, standing with eyes shut, or the fact that mysteries originally involved rituals that could not be spoken about, is open to interpretation.
Novels have roots in Greek drama. Originally, plays were religious festivals honoring Dionysius, the Ecstatic One. As a god, he had several forms. Ecstasy comes from the Greek ekstasis, to stand outside oneself. The dramas of Ancient Greece induced a feeling of ecstasy, and thus, a connection with the audience. Festivals lasted days. Without ecstasy, the world back then was drab.
Ecstasy has deeper roots in much earlier animistic and shamanistic beliefs that emphasized connections between humans and their surroundings. The world was alive, and by standing outside oneself, one could see the living relationships between objects, trees, animals, and humans. We were connected, and thus, life had meaning.
As writers, we should be aware of the larger context in which we write. It takes over 25,000 years for genetic adaptations to show up in the existing human population. We are not so very different from the Assyrian, who wrote the above inscription thousands of years ago. The audience is not that different either. Stories that moved readers in the past will continue to do so. It is something to note.
Today, a large part of the global economy is devoted to imparting in us a resemblance of the ecstasy that early theater did. Drama led to plays, that led to novels, that led to films, that led to television, that led to binge-watching, and so it goes. The reader yearns for a connection that will transport him or her to another world, give their lives meaning, and deliver an understanding in the process.
Books have competition from other media, but reading will never disappear. Reading is the more powerful, because readers must use their imaginations to experience what the writer has written. The writer asks the reader to suspend their beliefs and participate. The reader in exchange hopes the writer will give him a story, and a darn good one at that. It is a tacit contract.
I haven’t mentioned much in this post about Eye of the Moon, my book that comes out on February 6th. The plot is about what happens when you know that you never got the full story to begin with, and what happens when you finally do. I tried to make the novel as real and captivating as possible, because it is a tale worth telling.
I love to write. I love to read. I wrote Eye of the Moon with all of the above in mind, and the reader’s delight most of all.