Do you think of reading as an escape?
It’s a phrase we all hear many times. “I read to escape,” or “I’m going to escape into a good book.” But what do we really mean? It’s a question that has niggled in the back of my mind for some time, but Fantasy author V.E. Schwab actually put it into words in a recent article on the Tor.com website, “Escape from what?”
My own attitude towards reading has always been more of a comparison to taking an exotic holiday, especially when reading science fiction or Fantasy because the alternate worlds can be very different from normal reality, yet it applies to other genres as well. If you read a Mystery or Romance novel set in a country other than where you live, a good writer will give you a taste of the location and it’s almost like enjoying actual travel to the country. A novel in the Historical Fiction category can take you to another time and place, similar to participating in a re-enactment society.
Reading can be an escape from a dull or unpleasant situation in life, but for the majority of people who are generally happy in their lives, the ‘escape’ is an interlude, a little time in a different world where ordinary cares and stresses are forgotten for just a little while to deal with whatever conflict drives the story instead.
Reading can be an escape from a stressful situation. Many students have survived exams by taking a little time out to read a novel of their choice between studies. When I was fighting a particularly nasty child custody battle that required me to travel overseas, I always took a Fantasy novel with me to re-read. For that purpose, the familiarity of an alternative world I already knew well served the purpose best. I gave the case plenty of attention, but taking a few hours out to escape into my Fantasy world allowed a break from very real stresses and I think helped me to keep the focus I needed to eventually win the case.
A lot of young people, especially teenagers, get their first taste of what it’s like to be an adult, answerable for their own decisions, through the eyes of a protagonist in a story. Conversely, readers like myself when I was in my twenties and even early thirties can recapture the feeling of being a teenager without adult responsibilities while reading a story with teenage characters.
I think it’s safe to say that generally, reading serves as an escape toan alternate reality rather than an escape fromreal life, with the stated exception that comes with stressful circumstances. Through books we can visit far more interesting locales than most of us will ever be able to afford to travel to physically. We can see different perspectives of people unlike ourselves and experience emotions that might be too intense in a real life situation. We can suffer love and loss, even fear, but recover when we put the book down. We can travel in time or to distant planets without any real danger.
When I pick up a Fantasy book in normal circumstances, I refer to my reading as visitingthe Fantasy world rather than as any form of escape. I’ve traveled many countries in real life, but many more through the pages of a story. I’ve seldom regarded reading as an escape, even from mundane reality. It is my window to instant travel and to multi-era experiences that nothing else on earth can provide.
Do you think of reading as an escape? Or do you live many lives through imagination and the guidance of a good story? I’d love to hear your comments.
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