Over the last few days, I've had a lot of opportunity and reason to think about the impact great books have had on my mind and heart. The trouble is that reading a great book and having a great reading experience are not always (entirely) the same, and in my mind, alongside the books that changed my life on their own merits, are moments of reading itself, or the environment in which I was reading made things different. I read Colum McCann's book Transatlantic while traveling through Scotland and Ireland--the book is mostly set in the area around Belfast. I will not forget the feeling of reading that novel and watching the Irish country flash by the train window, or days before, the feeling of entering, and then leaving, the Scottish highlands. However, in my reading life, there is an experience of magic that brought together memory, music, tactile experience, and the word in a way that I will not forget.
When I was a freshman in high school, I received the last two books in the Twilight Saga, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn for Christmas. I'd asked for the books because my friends were reading the whole series, and while I had finished the first two, I didn't want to borrow the latter two from anyone else (it was freshman year; I was not, perhaps, the most discriminating reader yet). I also received an album of Bach's Adagios. I'd asked for that because I thought classical music made people smarter (or seem smarter) and my piano teacher had mentioned that Bach had great bass lines. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.
I was not expecting to be transported, but that is exactly what happened. At age nine, I spent hours walking around a forested track near a friend's house in Washington, where my family stayed for a few days. Reading those books brought me back to the feeling of the air, the fog in my lungs, the trees towering over head, surrounded by something bigger than me. While I can't speak highly to Stephanie Meyer's craft, I can speak highly of Washington, and how often I felt myself leaving my room and walking through the forests in Washington State, rain on my hood. I cannot listen to Bach's Adagios without being back in the woods; I cannot un-hear the ever-present rainfall that happened to be there when I was first spirited away by the tracks. I can speak highly to Bach's craft. I don't know if I would love him so well and so deeply if it wasn't for those silly books back in 2009.
But that's what art does, isn't it? That's its purpose even pieces that aren't crafted to par. When they work, they let you leave the world and experience it in a way that would have been forever denied, bound only in the past or the hazy future. When I hear that music, I am immediately brought back to the forest, and for me, every tree's rustling contains a quiet bass note, reverberating through the invisible fog that surrounds it, even when I am not looking too closely. And, when I see a book cover to a story I have long given away to a thrift store, I smile. To me, forever, the sound of rain is laced with the smell of paper.