Reading doesn’t need to be done locked away. You could sit in the park – with a warm coat and gloves at this time of year – and read on a park bench till your backside goes numb. Or you could read in the library and if you get bored just look over your page at the other people around you. There’s usually someone who is crazy or beautiful in a library. And reading doesn’t usually involve meeting angry or annoying people; people shouting too loud or people screwed up to fight. You can talk to the characters in the book and they will always be there when you come back to them.
People read different stuff. A lot of the time when I’m reading books I’m looking for other men to measure against; I’m looking for a hero or someone I could copy or someone I could learn from. I think that feeling is at the heart of all the superheroes in books and films. People who write heroes are looking to create the person they want to be. But how do you find heroes in books or films which are not about James Bond or Spiderman?
You could look for heroes who do something or have relationships which might relate to your own actions or relationships. When you’re feeling low about yourself, frustrated at your friends, let down by the people you love, you could look for how other people in books deal with the situation. It’s not ‘real’ but the emotions of the characters are usually more clearly described than you can describe your own emotions. These descriptions could help you understand your own emotions.
Here are 4 possibles, with different heroes and different meanings, in no particular order. Reading one might take a while but it’s worth the satisfaction of getting to the end and knowing your man and also a bit more about yourself:
- Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. The Doctor survives the Russian Revolution and the Civil War, walking back to Moscow from Siberia after giving up his lover to protect her safety. Zhivago is often not in control of his own destiny but his essential love of being alive – of the sounds and sights of the world – keep him burning with passion to live.
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Another Russian epic. The real hero is a Count Levin who struggles to find a way to be happy with himself and with the world. He finds an uncertain happiness with his young wife and in the thought the world will continue as it does – with both its joys and its miseries – for his whole life.
- Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. Packed full of heroes and heroines, but Aragorn stands out as the ultimate hero. He is, after all, King of Gondor, leader of free men, lover of Arwin/Liv Tyler etc etc. Aragorn keeps his identity secret but is not too arrogant to make friends with those talkative, rustic souls, the hobbits. His triumph is fantasy but it is good reading/watching and sharing in his glory.
- Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens. It’s on TV and for good reason during the credit crunch. Arthur Clennam, the hero of the book/film/TV drama, is no Aragorn but he is resilient and he is caring. He wonders if all happiness is past him but lives on and finds that love and happiness are actually much closer and warmer than he ever thought.