10 January 2011

Post 289: The Passage

The Passage by Justin Cronin.  ISBN: 9780345504968.

I think I would be remiss if I didn't share at least one passage from, uh, The Passage with you.  I find some of Cronin's punctuation choices a bit weird, but I am assuming that he meant to have some sentences be short and choppy and others long and windy to capture the tone of this book.  After a while it stopped bothering me so much and I was able to just read and read and get carried away.  Here's one of my favorite sections (of which I actually have many):
"A thousand recollected lives were passing through her, a thousand stories -- of love and work, of parents and children, of duty and joy and grief.  Beds slept in and meals eaten, and the bliss and pain of the body, and a view of summer leaves from a window on a morning it had rained; the nights of loneliness and the nights of love, the soul in its body's keeping always longing to be known." Page 722.
I like this because it reminds me of the feeling I get from reading.  It was referring to something completely different of course, but every time I read or listen to a new story it feels like this passage to me.  It feels like the souls and lives of others are going through me, and I get to keep little bits and pieces of memory from this life or that life.  I get to feel my soul awaken to the plights of these fictional characters.

I guess you could say that reading has almost always been a religious experience for me.  There is something mystical and magical about being able to experience the lives of other people in such a way, even to create the lives of other people.  Even the words on the page themselves are completely awe inspiring in the sense that these tiny shapes are able to convey meaning and emotion to me, and that someone else was the author of that meaning.

On some level I understand the mechanics of reading and how it works in the brain.  It's mostly a matter of shape recognition.  We are able to recognize certain shapes as being certain things.  For instance, a tree has a wide variety of shape variances, but has pretty standard characteristics once you begin to narrow down what is a tree versus what isn't a tree.  We actually all have pictures in our minds of what "tree" is, for some of us it's a palm or an oak or a willow, etc. and this is the image our brain uses when recognizing whether or not something is a tree.  In the case of letters, they represent a variation of sounds, in conjunction with other letters that dictates what sound it forms.  One could argue that we don't have the same attachment to letters as we do to "tree", but I imagine it works on a pretty similar principle, and more so when letters appear in certain combinations.

But the mere fact that our brain can learn to do this is simply amazing to me.  That any human being can learn to communicate in this way is sort of like a miracle.  I don't think I've ever grown weary or bored of the experience of reading itself.  I may not like a certain book I'm reading, but I can still step outside of it and say, "How cool is it that I actually know what this person is trying to tell me and they wrote it last year or last century and in a different state."  Does anyone else feel this way when they're reading or is it just me?  Is it because I had such a difficult time learning to read, and then it just felt like it clicked all of a sudden?  Have you had any "religious" moments while reading?  Why do you do it, how does it make you feel?  Are there other quotes that describe your reading experiences that you'd like to share?

There is a great video interview with Justin Cronin and librarian Nancy Pearl.  It's on the longish side, but if you've already read the book or are thinking about it, this will help you enjoy it even more.  Since this has so much hype, here is a review with trepidation from The Word Zombie.  I thought it only appropriate to include a positive (but still pointing out flaws), if very detailed review from Love Vampires, no spoilers though; they talk about theme, character, character development, plot development, etc.
LibsNote: Copy from the library.

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