Writing Life: Pushing Onward
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In C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, Ransom, the main character, finds himself caught up in a stunning expedition to the planet Malacandra. Much of the book is about Ransom’s discoveries on the planet. He’s confronted by strange and beautiful wonders that he has never encountered before. All of his categories and ideas are stretched and rewritten, as he even discovers other sentient species, and learns to love their customs and traditions.
Ransom comes back from his journey strengthened. His experiences among the hross and soren left him with “an otherwordly glow” that persisted even after he had left Malacandra behind. His experiences changed him.
Books have the incredible power to change their readers…but how can you be changed when you only read those things that are like you? It’s easy and entertaining to return to familiarity, but it can be much more valuable to push on to new and unfamiliar stories.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with returning to books that you’ve enjoyed and appreciated before. For instance, I’m circling back to C.S. Lewis’ Till we Have Faces and Space Trilogy after many years, because I know there’s still good to be gotten from them. Great books are, after all, inexhaustible.
But it’s hard to match the experience of discovering a new book. Sometimes, a new story can be opaque and obscuring (such as Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy), forcing you to pound your brain and beliefs against a tough wall of a story. Other times, a good book can open up your mind to an entire part of the world you’d never considered (Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in nature, for example). Still more times a good book will put words to feelings and longings you couldn’t describe on your own, by describing them in the experiences of the characters you’re following (for me, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment answered so many questions).
So try new things. Try reading books by people who are different than you, who look at the world differently and see orange where you see red. For my part, my next reads come from different parts of the world and different cultures. Here’s some of what I’m trying to read to broaden my horizons and put myself up against writers who may think differently than me and bring me to consider concepts and ideas I wouldn’t have otherwise even thought of:
- C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy (England, science-fiction)
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind (Spain, historical fiction)
- Paula McLain’s Paris Wife (American, general fiction)
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera (South America, magical realism);
- Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (Nigeria, historical fiction)
How will you push yourself further in 2016? What will you tackle? Let us know in the comments below.