“Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire were intelligent children, and they were charming, and resourceful, and had pleasant facial features, but they were extremely unlucky, and most everything that happened to them was rife with misfortune, misery, and despair.”
-Lemony Snicket, from The Bad Beginning
Today’s Art of Manliness assignment was to start reading a book. My elementary and middle school days were full of me reading fun books all the time everywhere and anywhere. I remember many of them too: Abel’s Island, King of the Wind, Anne of Green Gables, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, etc.
But somehow, sometime, somewhere along the way I’ve stopped reading stories. Nowadays I read plenty of nonfiction and textbooks, which are awesome, but I don’t read them for the fantasy and dreams; instead I read for homework or the sake of being taught something. I think it’s correlated with my becoming busier with planning my future that I don’t spend enough time dreaming.
Today I read a book from one of my favorite series, namely An Unfortunate Series of Events, by Lemony Snicket. I first read it in middle school, sitting inside Borders while waiting for the movie to start at AMC20. If you haven’t read them, please give them a try. The mixture of fatalistic pessimism and humor gives you both depression and laughter; and I sense that a bit of my own writing style has derived from his.
I read the whole book in one sitting, and I relived my childhood love of make-belief and story-telling. Why don’t I read anymore? Why has literature deteriorated into just the bare, bony practicals of information? And even in the rare moments when I read, why do I feel obligated to pick up only the difficult, long, heavy books that are about “serious, grown-up” things? I think the child in me is dying, along with my ability to dream my own dreams.
As grown-ups, we are very quick to draw a line between what happens in books or movies, and what happens in our lives. Of course, I don’t expect my parents to perish in a terrible fire, after which I must live with Count Olaf (knock on wood). But I do think there’s something about fiction that keeps me young and evermore progressing towards a better manhood (as paradoxical as that sounds). When a man somehow decides what can’t happen in his life, he cannot dream anymore and he will have nothing to do after achieving his current dream. And a man doing nothing is the very definition of futility. So read and dream, my people.
Rapunzel: I’ve been looking out of a window for eighteen years, dreaming about what I might feel like when those lights rise in the sky. What if it’s not everything I dreamed it would be?
Flynn Rider: It will be.
Rapunzel: And what if it is? What do I do then?
Flynn Rider: Well,that’s the good part I guess. You get to go find a new dream.
-from the movie Tangled