My favorite shirt. I got it when we were in Colorado last summer. I don’t normally buy shirts with much writing on them, but this one spoke to me. The design, the colors, the fit, all of it. So, I bought it. When I wear it, I think about our trip to the mountains, and my soul feels instantly lighter. I know it’s not the shirt, but the memories it invokes.
Whether it’s the material itself or the memories I associate with it, it’s still my favorite. And, with Escape Artist emblazoned in bright yellow across the chest, it’s also relevant. I came to realize something the other day: I read to escape.
It’s not an entirely new revelation. I’ve had this thought before. The first time I actually consciously noticed it was in the months following September 11th, 2001. Most of you know that we lived in Manhattan, and we were there that day. In fact, if you’ve met me since then and have spent more than about ten minutes with me, I’ve probably brought it up in conversation. Like it or not, that event is a large part of me, of my history on this planet, and I carry my life experiences with me and rarely do I shy away from sharing them.
A couple months before the attacks, some of our good friends moved from Chicago to New York and actually moved into the building where we were living, one floor below us. We were quite close at the time, and I was relieved to have them there that morning. I hadn’t heard from Steve since the second plane hit, and I knew he was downtown in the middle of it. I didn’t hear from him for three hours, and those were the longest three hours of my life. Chris and Maria offered me updates and comfort that day and helped me manage in the months to come.
What does any of this have to do with books? Well, after September 11th, fear crept in and like tree roots searching out water, it wound its way into every thought, took hold of every routine, informed every action. Suddenly, I had tennis shoes untied and ready to wear under to my bed and we slept with the bedroom door locked – in our 16th-floor apartment. You know those little door locks that sometimes keep children and small dogs out, but pretty much everyone else can get past them in seconds? Yeah. I relied on that lock to keep the terrorists out of our bedroom. We kept our front door deadbolted and chained (nothing new there, actually). We also had go bags ready and waiting just in case we needed to make a mad-dash out of the city, fleeing terrorists. I took up running again. We carried our IDs with us everywhere and had them at the ready to prove that we should be allowed down our usual streets or into our own office buildings. We had a plan on where to meet if there was ever another attack and cell service was disrupted again.
Most days, all I could think was, how was I going to get back to Michigan? Or isn’t that plane flying awfully close to our building? Or, why is that plane flying out over the river, they don’t usually fly that path, do they? Or, oh, god, what’s that sound – we’re all going to die! – wait, that was just the subway passing under the street.
Everything changed. I can make fun of myself for it a little now, but at the time, I was scared. I needed an outlet. My friend, Maria from downstairs, provided that to me in the form of Harry Potter.
Before September 11th, I had heard of Harry Potter, but to the best of my knowledge, it was a kids’ book, and I didn’t have kids. I normally read crime novels and the occasional vampire novel. I liked suspense and action. I didn’t need to read kids’ books. But, after September 11th, I needed to get away. I needed to escape. I devoured the first four Harry Potter novels in a very short span of time and then kept looking for any book that might help me forget about real world problems. Gritty crime dramas seemed too real, I needed witches and wizards and vampires and werewolves.
I still love urban fantasy and vampire books but over the years, I’ve expanded my palette. Several years ago I started reading biographies of our founding fathers and early presidents. I love that period of our history. I love new beginnings. I’ve belonged to book clubs over the years and we’ve read some amazing books about heavy topics along with lighthearted essays and tales of adventure. I’ve read some of the classics: Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favorite books. I’ve even read fantasy fiction books based on this classic, from Mr Darcy, Vampire (meh, not my favorite, surprisingly) to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (wow! I loved it!). I’m not trying to brag about my voracious appetite for reading. In fact, I read quite slowly compared to many of my peers. I am attempting to show that my interests are varied, and have changed over the years. I tend to lean toward science fiction and fantasy, but normally, I like to change things up. After a few romps around fantastical lands with fantastical creatures, I usually like to dip into a gritty crime scene and work out whodunit and how it went down. I like to throw in biographies and essays and classics to round things out – usually.
But now, I’ve found myself feeling the need to escape again. It’s only just dawned on me that that’s what’s been happening. I’ve been reading urban fantasy, and only a handful of different authors, continually for at least a year now. Probably longer, but I can’t remember exactly what I’ve read and when. My son and I are reading the Percy Jackson series, and these stories are some of my very favorites in recent times. Reading these books reminds me of how I felt when I started reading Harry Potter, but now I get to share that sense of adventure and excitement with my son.
My world isn’t as tumultuous or as dramatically changed as it was after September 11th, but I do find that I cannot deal with our new reality all the time. My husband recently bought me biographies of Dave Grohl and Alexander Hamilton and I am excited to read both, but I can’t seem to pull myself out of these fantasy worlds that I escape to nightly.
Not yet, anyway.
What about you? What are you reading? Do you read to escape?