I don’t understand you.
I don’t. I can’t. Your experience is not mine, mine is not yours. I can gain empathy with you. I can share common ground. But I can never, ever fully understand the experience that is your life.
I don’t understand your childhood.
I understand my childhood, I understand spending every Saturday morning at the riding stables and learning the intricate joys of measuring stirrup leathers against your arm and somehow having them fit your legs as a result of this. I understand ginger cats, and paddling through streams. I understand my mum baking bread on a snowy day and the rest of us eating it all before it got cold.
That’s my childhood. That’s the shape of what made me. It’s not the shape of what made my brother, my sister, my parents, my best friend, you. It’s the shape of what made me.
Books are like that, I think, they are shapers and moulders but resolutely personal in their actions. They are powerful, powerful things but they are your thing, the effect (affect?) they have on you is yours because this dynamic you have, between you and the book, that’s yours. That’s all yours.
Riding is a bit like that. There’s nobody else involved in this but you and the horse. You start with that tense nervous relationship with something unfathomable, something big and massive and shadowy, before that sudden moment where you work together in perfect synchrony, that sudden shift in understanding that makes you feel unstoppable and then you change leg on the corner, shift fluidly into the next serpentine before half passing down the centre of the arena, to finish, your hand on your hat and a song in your heart.
Reading is a lot like that as well.
(Sidebar: Can I tell you about how much I love how some words are related? Reading. Riding. That little shift of letters after the ‘R’ changes everything and yet, somehow, these words remain linked for me. Ditto Saying / Saving)
Anyway. Reading is a lot like that. That nervous, expectancy that comes every time you open the page. You want it to be good. You want it to fill a little hole inside you right there, right then, that you might not even realise is missing. But you do. You want something from this transaction, whether it’s something tangible or intangible, that’s open to discussion. But it is something, that much is clear.
But here’s where we talk about tribes (and I would reccommend having a quick look at ‘Tribes’ by Seth Godin should your local library emporium stock it). Whilst acknowledging that reading is an inherently personal act, it’s also important to acknowledge that reading is a shared cultural act. France classifies books as an essential good. The first Young Adult Literature Convention took place recently (and sidebar 2: I am longing to visit the next one). The Summer Reading Challenge is going on in public libraries across the UK at the moment (it’s going on in the one that I’m in right now).
This quote from Seth Godin seems relevant, really.
“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” (Seth Godin, Tribes)
We are alone, but books bring us together. They are our shared interest, and the internet and conventions and public library initiatives (and blogs, and social media, and reading groups and… ) are the ties which bind us.
I love that. I love how there’s so many people out there who are determined to help you (oh nebulous, hypothetical you) realise who and what you are. What you want to be.
You are alone, but you’re not.
You never were.
What a wonderful contradiction life is!