If you’re not writing, you might as well be reading. One of the things I’ve always loved about getting lost in a book is just that: getting lost. Some people like television or movies for their escapist endeavors, but I’m more of a book worm. I like my escapist literature. In fact, sometimes I come out of a book, and I kind of forget where I am. I get disoriented and feel like I’m floating somewhere in between two worlds.
I’ve read any number of excellent books that have taken me to a completely different place, and many of them have brought me back time and again when I just need to get out of my own world for a while. It’s difficult for me to rank books — it feels like a parent being asked to pick a favorite child and give the reasons why. I won’t do it. But I will tell you what my Top 5 are.
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
I might, perhaps, be slightly biased here. Over the years since I first read and fell in love with this book in AP English Lit, I’ve read it again and again. Each time I find something new, and each time I fall in love with it all over again. Nick Carraway is such a phenomenal narrator and there’s something about him that makes me feel just uncomfortable enough. In short, he is my literary crush (I have no idea about this Mr. Darcy you Vic Lit-lovers hold in such high regards).
When I read this book, it’s always summer and I’m always somewhere I’ll probably never be: The Hamptons. But not even the Hamptons as they are now. No, I’m on the Hamptons in the Roaring 20s. Everything is glamourous. And even as I feel hopeful, I feel sad, and it’s somehow comforting.
Much as I love and frequently ponder the final lines of the novel (and numerous other lines and passages), I read a line in this book when I was 17 years old and have spent the last nearly-11 years considering it almost every day. I’m in love with one sentence, and it’s pretty serious. Pretty long-term. Like Nick, I find it pounding in my head, over and over.
“There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.”
The Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling
I was tardy to the Harry Potter party. I’ve read the entire series once, and I’m in the process of re-reading it (I’m currently on book 7 again). From a writer’s perspective, the world that Rowling has created — Hogwarts, The Burrow, Privet Drive, all of it — is so vividly crafted and described that it’s hard not to get lost in this world. This is good and bad. Sometimes it’s fun to get lost there, but readers of the series know that sometimes it can be a pretty terrifying place. I’ve found myself having Harry Potter-themed nightmares on numerous occasions since I’ve been re-reading, especially during the 6th book, which is my favorite.
These books transport me to a place that I know doesn’t exist in real life, and that’s part of the fun. They also remind me that, in writing as well as in life, there is still a place for big imaginations and people who can create these kinds of characters, and my big imagination has a field day picturing all of it in action.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
I can’t remember how old I was the first time I read this book. I think it was somewhere around second grade, but I can clearly remember selecting it off of the table full of books recommended for the older kids during our RIF (Reading is Fun-damental) fair at my elementary school. Those were awesome because we each got to pick a free book. They were my favorite days. My teacher called me something like “ambitious” after I picked this one, which I didn’t understand at the time.
Still, I brought it home and started reading it. And it didn’t take long before I started begging my dad to let me “whitewash” the picket fence that used to separate our back yard from our neighbor’s.
And that summer, at my Grandma’s pool, every time I got on a raft, you better believe I was riding down the Mississippi River.
Kids’ stuff, huh? I went to college right along the Susquehanna River, and when you drive alongside certain parts of it, there are these little wooded islands speckled along the way. As a college student (and… still), I would ride past those and think that Tom and Huck must be out there hiding.
In 2006, when my friend moved into a new house, I asked her if I could help paint. Her response was something along the lines of, “Are you crazy? YES!” Then she laughed at me for days when I told her that painting walls reminds me of Tom Sawyer.
In 2008, I visited caves with a friend. I may or may not have claimed Injun Joe was hiding there.
And there are any number of other reasons. When I was doing my student teaching in 2005, I taught the novel to 8th graders and got to interact with it in a whole new way, which was really fun for me. It lets me go somewhere on an adventure and be brave — since I am generally not so much by nature. Plus, I just really like Mark Twain, especially after I decided to complete my high school graduation project research on him. Always adding new elements to this favorite.
Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
Most people are aware of the fact that I have a soft spot for pirates. And by “soft spot,” I mean I make pirate jokes and generally find them humorous (but not modern pirates… they use things like flame-throwers and… stolen Internet connections [not necessarily at once]).
It generally takes more than one reading for details of a book to stick with me (at least enough to remember what really happened), but this is one that wasn’t necessarily the case. I read it for the first time also while student teaching, and it was a different kind of adventure with a whole host of different characters than I was accustomed to. Some parts are slow, but on the whole, I was captivated by the buildings burned, the time at sea, The Black Spot, and of course, by Long John Silver.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
I’ve become quite a Capote fan in recent years. I love his writing style and the way he crafts his stories. Seriously, if you haven’t read In Cold Blood, you must. Many consider that the pinnacle of his career. And then we can discuss my book-as-panopticon theories that eventually allowed me to predict certain parts of LOST long before they ever happened (I called a Locke/Jeremy Bentham relationship in season 1. Thank you, Panopticon). But alas, that one isn’t a place you want to escape to (I hope). Let us proceed to Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Aside from the fact that we are both kind of a mess in ways that are different and similar, Holly Golightly is a girl I will never be, living a life I will never live, in a New York that doesn’t totally exist anymore. I have this weird fascination with Old New York — brownstones and intricate architecture — and that might be what draws me to this book (I am equally a fan of the movie, though it’s a watered down version for sure, and one that Capote was reportedly not very happy with). When I read this, I can go to Old New York. I can walk in Holly’s shoes for a little while and be someone else. I can curl up on the fire escape of the brownstone building where she lives and hang out there.
It’s not every day, after all, that a girl from the middle of nowhere gets to stroll down 5th Avenue.
So that’s my list. And now that I’ve got you singing that Deep Blue Something song (“And I said, ‘What about Breakfast at Tiffany’s?’ She said, ‘I think I remember the film line…'” How ’bout now?), distract yourself for a moment and tell me — what are your favorite escapist books?