After a long break from reading a complete book, this summer, in addition to studying for the dreaded MCAT, I decided to get back into one of my oldest, most beloved hobbies: reading for pleasure. My best friend and I actually started a book club. Silly is probably one of the first words that comes to mind for a two-person book club, yet it allows us to motivate each other to delve back into the imaginary world of the now ancient forms of telling a story. Books have always served as a timeless companion–an object that continues to be a precious friend, never leaving one’s side. After three years of attending a university, I realized how difficult it is to find time for that world of imagination and pleasure you are cast into as I carefully move my fingers across each dusty, yellowed page in an old book. A university education turns us into busy, almost mindless robots, striving to get good grades while memorizing useless information we will probably never touch upon again. The politics of receiving a university education and its effects is a topic I will probably talk about at some other point; however, the entire blame for the lack of reading cannot be placed on the formal education system, when we, too, are much of the cause for the blame. We must motivate ourselves to seek time to read for ourselves, to submerge ourselves into the everlasting depths of literary text.
I recently read a book that brought back the world of imagination I used to so often thrive in, especially as an only child. The book is titled The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, a recommendation I came across on GoodReads. The author hardly hesitates to delve into the intense plot of the novel, for within the first page in itself, the reader is sucked into 1945 Barcelona, Spain, several years after the La Guerra Civil, the Spanish Civil War and into the life of a bookseller and his young son, Daniel, who mourns the loss of his mother, finding solace in a book authored by a mysterious Julian Carax. Zafón takes us on a roller coaster ride of betrayal, romance, violence and murder as the readers observe the development of the characters from childhood to adulthood. We see Daniel bloom from childhood through adolescence as he and we the readers realize the complexity and darkness of which our world consists of. This novel makes you think and ponder about the all too well-known themes of coincidences and history repeating itself.
As Daniel experiences difficult times and the constant, un-welcomed presence of the nasty inspector Fumero in his life, the readers tend to empathize with the young man. Julian Carax, the author who has disappeared for many years now and possibly even dead, adds more complexity to the story, providing a parallel to Daniel’s character and another reason why Daniel so urgently wishes to find out everything about Carax and his mysteriously disappearing books.
Although a fictional tale, Zafón makes his story come alive, allowing the readers to feel as if they too, are part of such an incredible tale. I did not want The Shadow of the Wind to end and I held on to it for a few minutes even after I had finished reading it. How could I just let go? I felt like I was a part of Daniel, accompanying him on his various quests to find out more information about Carax. Even after so many obstacles in his path, he did not give up–a true hero in many ways although definitely not a traditional one. For instance, Daniel constantly struggles with his cowardliness and often finds it difficult to stand up for what he believes in–a problem we all will face or have faced in the past. With experiences such as these, the fictional story opened my eyes to the applications of its many such insightful themes to reality.
In 1945 Spain, more than 60 years ago, during times of trials and tribulations, Daniel’s father struggles to keep his quaint bookshop up and running, a time when technology had not yet sprung up to constantly invade our private and public lives. However, writers were seen as crazy, with completely different mindsets compared to that of the common man, causing readers of fiction to slowly dwindle–a recurring theme in our present as well. What is the use of knowledge if we do not allow ourselves to self-interpret, imagine and conjure up images of certain scenarios to face and resolve our many conflicts? Although I make a sweeping judgement in my statement, personally my only message to the general public is to read and to learn to explore your thoughts. One of the ways in which an individual can learn to empathize with another is by putting themselves in that particular individual’s shoes. Learning to live life through another person, albeit a fictional one, still opens many doors to new opportunities for learning.
My argument may come off as a little preachy and I may even admit to be guilty in this case. Whatever the interpretation of my words, from personal experience, books have taught me so much about the plight of others and the importance of cultural experiences that they will always be a timeless companion by my side, regardless of any stage of life. I encourage others to pick up a book–it can be about anything–feel the pages between your fingers, combined with the familiar smell of dust, ink, and paper and just look at those marvelous words come alive. Who knows? They might even speak to you someday.