Why books have forever scarred my life

Why books have forever scarred my life: the hero's call and dramatic expectations of change

I’ve always been a voracious reader. Growing up, I was the nerdy kid who could be found with her nose in a book. I spent most of my summer holidays lost between the pages of a novel, imagining myself in different worlds and far flung places; fighting heroic battles and going off on adventurous quests.

For a long time – longer than I care to admit – I was somewhat disappointed that my life was never as heroic or dramatic as all my imagined lives were, when I was growing up. I’ve had my share of adventures and gone through periods of intense change, yes, but the plot lines have been messy, and the trajectory has been slow and incremental. There have been no dramatic twists and turns, no neat tying in of my existential anxieties to create an epic story of my personal transformation.

All those memes that tell you to be the heroine of your own story?

Yeah, well, reality is a little bit different.

You see, the hero’s journey, which every book and movie worth its salt is based on, rarely comes neatly packaged with roller coaster highs and lows, and dragons to slay along the way. What I have realised is that transformation, when you’re living through it, is slow and painful. There are times when you feel like you will be forever stuck in a quagmire of your own existential angst. At others, it feels like you are constantly taking one step forward and two steps back. And there are days…months even, when you are convinced that you have lost your way because you simply cannot bear to spill any more ink on the page, or sit on the meditation cushion and confront your own dull humanity, or read another book or listen to another TED talk exhorting you to work on your mindset.

The truth about change

Here’s the truth about change: it is slow and messy and sometimes feels n e v e r e n d i n g, and often times, you miss the memo congratulating you on your transformation. And so you go on plodding along for a while longer, trying to fight the shadows even when you’re out in the bright sunlight, before you suddenly realize that change stole in quietly one night and you didn’t even realize it.

And it is then, and only then, that you can look back on your journey and see all the high points and the lows: the valley of death and the vale of resurrection; the battle where you slayed the dragon and drove out the demons. And even then, in that looking back and retelling, you are often embellishing your story in some ways; making it a little more dramatic; trying to capture a little of the magic that you found as a child, between the pages of a book.

Note: This piece on how novels screw up our expectations of climate change prompted me to look at how dramatic plot points and literary tropes, especially in some popular YA novels, where characters go through a well-defined story arc, can screw up our expectations of what real life and dealing with the hero’s call {basically, change} actually looks like.

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22 Comments

  1. In reality that fairy tale never does eventuate and problems often remain unsolved. Beautifully written – loved this.

    • LOL! Right?! And all I wanted was a ring in my wine glass with a violinist playing a beautiful melody as the man of my dream waits for my response with bated breath!

  2. We sort of enjoy the unfolding of a conflict in a book, but in real life, we don’t know where we are in the narrative arc, and we can’t peek at the ending or gauge the speed of resolution by how many pages remain. This is where faith has to kick in!

  3. Life is always better in books and on full screen. Basically you can stop reading or watching if you don’t like the way the story is panning out. I have now rediscovered the joy of reading . Funnily enough I find the escapism in novels more calming than meditation or walking……

    • That’s true!! And the way it’s all presented – beautifully packaged with often times neat resolutions to everything. If only life was like that sometimes 😉

  4. Oh, I so get it Jini. I used to always wonder as a kid why my life isn’t as dramatic or romantic or action-packed like that portrayed in the books. Things are difficult in real life and may be it is because of the same reason I find reading therapeutic. 🙂

  5. It is true that our reminiscences colour our memories. Perhaps a bit of embellishment happens instinctively rather than deliberately. My childhood wasn’t dramatic but my early adult life had a lot of it in abundance. I don’t miss any of that. I am glad to be middle-aged and wiser now, ready to take what life offers. Change is the only constant, that’s true. It creeps up on us before we know it.

    • I do think the embellishment is instinctive, but it’s interesting to note how difficult real life & fictional tropes are, even when there are similarities. And amen for drama free lives!

  6. I get it. Like how we talk about characterization and our own lives are so confused 😉 The fun part is my life has been full of stories or I like to believe that. So maybe there are similarities too. Fun post and a fantastic perspective.

  7. Oh so true, books bring to you situations ans somehow in those pages , all answers are sorted out. However life seldom is the same way. You keep seeking them till the end, and sometimes still not find them.

  8. I completely agree with you. In real life, change is never nearly as dramatic or heroic as it is in the books or movies, and pretty painful and tedious too. Which is why so many people use books to escape the reality. However I feel like even though not neatly tied up like fiction, the growth and transformation that occurs in real life is so much more rewarding that it makes all the growing pains worth it. 🙂

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