Life is a garden of experience. There are so many places to see, so many people to meet, so many things to try. Like children, we’re inebriated with life and want to have it all. But our days on Earth are so short, and if you’re like most of us, your available time is further constrained by the obligations of the day, along with all the other obligations that ensure you’ll only experience an infinitesimal fraction of all the things you so boldly aspired to accomplish when you are young.
In moments of despair, when you’re laying on your back in the middle of the night looking up at the ceiling, wondering if you’ll ever have an opportunity to break free from the shackles of an ordinary life, you might wonder, “What could I achieve if only I could live more than once?”
It’s one of the reasons we’re obsessed with immortality and youth. It’s one of the reasons we cling so desperately to life even in its twilight hour, because the child within, still so naive and optimistic, hopes in spite of its imminent demise to have it all.
What are we to do? Is there any way for us to fulfill such a foolhardy desire, or like death row inmates, are we to cower in our cells, waiting for the executioner to call our number?
Books are the answer.
Of course, nothing beats a first-hand experience. But stories nevertheless come in at a close second, for what are stories but intimate tales of other people’s life experiences? Whether real or imagined, stories allow us to slip in and out of other places and other lives, regardless of our financial, professional or social obligations.
Want to go some place new?
Open a book and transport yourself to anywhere in the world. Visit Europe. Explore the Middle East. Tour the tropical paradises of Southeast Asia. Whatever you desire is always available; the world is at your fingertips, waiting only for you to turn the page.
Is the Earth too ordinary for you? Purchase something of the sci-fi or fantasy variety and do what generations of explorers and astronauts have only dreamed of: explore new worlds. Books are gateways, portals to the vast multiverse of the collective human imagination. Contained within are worlds of every kind. Some are governed by the laws of magic. Others are governed by the laws of real-world science. Some are even a unique combination of the two.
For the cost of a cup of coffee, you can purchase a tourist visa to any number of other worlds, all of them accessible, ready and waiting for you to discover their secrets at your convenience.
Want to live a different life?
Have you ever wanted to pick up a new hobby, but you didn’t have enough time? How about a new profession? Hell, haven’t you ever wanted to know what it’s like to live someone else’s life entirely?
Once more, books provide the solution.
What truly makes stories worth reading is that they afford us intimate encounters with other people. Not only do we meet them, we’re offered access to their minds, their hearts, their souls. We’re granted an almost omniscient point of view, something that we mere mortals couldn’t dare to dream of achieving any other way.
We become the characters. Just as we travel effortlessly from one location to the next, so too do we pass from mind to mind, becoming each and every person we meet along the way. The result is that we live as many lives as we desire.
Even in fiction, the people we encounter are real, for every character was ultimately written by a real person, so that each is always a reflection of something true.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…” ― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons
Every book is a world encompassing a tapestry of lives and experiences that are not our own, yet can be if only we choose to read about them. As humans, we might not be capable of immortality. But through reading, we can ensure that our brief time on Earth will be rich and pregnant with possibilities.