The Art of Living

Why? Small children love this question. Grown-ups usually have given up on it long time ago. Not least, because we can’t find a good answer.Summer reading. Image by leiris202

Yet, I still love so ask ‘Why’ – to myself and others.

At the Peirene coffee morning last Tuesday I decided to ask the attendees “Why do you read?’

“To learn new things” and “to escape my own life” were the most common answers. I then repeated the question on twitter. Again, escapism came up top.

“What!?” Peirene exclaimed and collapsed on the office sofa. “I just don’t believe it. Where has the world come to. If you want to flee yourself and the world, get drunk, take drugs or watch a film. Reading has nothing to do with escapism. In Ancient Greece we wouldn’t even have dared to put these two words into one sentence!”

She covered her eyes with her lower arm. “Oh, my gods, I feel a migraine coming on. This is too much for me.” I rushed to get her a wet flannel.

“I understand the desire for escapism,” I ventured to suggest. “You want to follow somebody else’s life that has nothing to do with yours.”

“But in regard to literature, that’s a contradiction in terms. There is no one else when you read. Everything happens in your imagination.  A good text provides inspiration, throws you back onto yourself, demands that you reflect on your own life. A good text doesn’t dictate to you what you should think, it gives you a story to contemplate. Your mind has to become active, and that is exciting.”

I have to admit I know what the Nymph is talking about. Only last Saturday I was reminded of the inspirational power good literature.

This weekend we held our 11th Salon. On the guest list was a woman who had recently subscribed to Peirene and bought the sets. I had never met her before. She came with her husband.

They had just read Beside the Sea and Stone in a Landslide. The stories had touched them deeply. Their enthusiasm was tangible.

Beside the Sea, what a powerful book,” they said. “It makes you think of how easy it is for all of us to take the wrong turn.”

And Stone in the Landslide caused the husband – a pragmatic executive from a large company – to shed tears.

It was wonderful to see their excitement and hear them describe their emotional responses. The couple reminded me of how I felt when I had first read the books. The texts had made me feel alive.

And thus it is true: Peirene’s  books don’t offer escapism. Commercially no doubt a bad decision. So, why do I publish these books? Only to please an ancient Greek Nymph? I have no plausible answers. Except  that publishing them makes me feel alive – and so does reading them.

Image by leiris202.

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