“Books break the shackles of time.
A book is proof that humans can work magic.”
— Carl Sagan*
Guest Blogger: Claire Day
The world of the written word is a mystery to me. It pulls me in and I have no idea why. Yes, I can explain my love of language, of phrases polished like rich mahogany, worlds I enter with trust and joyful anticipation. How beautifully written fiction with characters who grow through the pages, unfolding in slow paces, allows me to enter their experiences with them. But beneath these reasons lies a mystery: the mystery of why.
Why am I drawn to words so powerfully, and not, for instance, the world of science, into which my son and husband pour their enthusiasm? “That’s interesting,” I say when they explain a facet of the universe to me, or a natural phenomenon here on earth. And I really mean it. It is interesting – intellectually. I know that. But the experience for me is all intellectual – devoid of emotion.
I have an awareness of the awesomeness of the cosmos, and I use that word in its traditional not diminished modern sense. I can feel the vastness, the sense of possibility outside of the limits of my perceptions, a sense of wonder. But it doesn’t fill my head as I go for walks or perform mindless chores. It doesn’t imbue me with the joyful anticipation of returning to a book to read more, and it certainly doesn’t satisfy what I have come to accept is an integral piece of me as a reader: the need to see language constructed in a way that has beauty in its choice of words and phraseology, much as paintings have their colors, tones and brush strokes. It’s all about conveying what’s in the writer’s mind in such a way that the reader can see, feel and experience it in much the same way.
Where that need comes from I have no idea. Yes, I grew up in a home of readers; I’m an only child and lived a lot in the world of my imagination. But that’s not enough to explain the mystery. Why is it words I’m drawn to so powerfully – not paintings, not ballet, not any of the other expressive art forms? That’s the mystery I’m speaking of: how each one of us responds differently to what is available; how we are moved by different experiences. For me, it will always be written words. When combined with skill and love, they have the capacity to create a beauty that allows me to access mental images and ideas far greater and richer than any I have experienced in my own life. Whatever the mystery that pulls me toward them, I accept it with gratitude.
*excerpt from the 11th episode of Carl Sagan’s 1980s Cosmos series, titled “The Persistence of Memory”
Claire Day, a transplant from England, is a Founding Member of Straw Dog, and an Amherst Writers & Artists alum. She has been a workshop participant over a span of many years, and, for a time, a workshop leader. During her career as a public school teacher she tried to instill in her students that sense of discovery and enthusiasm that writing always instills in her. Now retired, she is finally about to fulfill the number one item on her bucket list and study for an MFA.