Living Vicariously Through Books

Returning guest blogger, Kathleen Delaney, talks about why we read.



As you read this, I’m touring around Alaska. I’ve never been there before, and thought I’d better get up there before the glaciers melted and the polar bears became extinct. So, when my daughter-in-law asked me to come along with her, my daughter, and their two kids, I jumped at the chance. Her parents live there, I enjoy their company, and they were anxious to show our grandchildren and me the sights.

I’ve always been fascinated by Alaska. I’ve read a lot about it. Jack London’s tales, Jon Krakauer’s Into The Wild, Sue Henry’s mysteries, they have all fired my imagination, especially about the Iditarod. I can picture myself standing on the end of my sled, swathed in furs, shouting “mush, mush” to my eager team of Malamutes, lunging into their harnesses as we fly over frozen rivers, through dense forest, across the open tundra. The reality, of course, is a little different. A 73 year old one legged woman who hates being cold and whose potential dog team consists of one elderly German Shepherd and an Italian Greyhound has little chance of winning the Iditarod. Or for that matter, even starting it. But it doesn’t really matter because, thanks to all those books, I’ve been there. And when I’m touring Danali in the safety of the tour bus, or listening to the glacier crack up from the security of the boat deck, I’ll be able to look beyond them to those wild places where the books have already taken me.

My mother wanted to go to England. All her life she was fascinated by English history and she had no problem relaying that fascination to my brother and me. I knew the names of Henry VIII’s wives before I knew all the states and could give you the complete genealogy of the Plantagenets better than most English school children.

Mother never made it to England. She was a rotten traveler, planning her return trip home before she’d ever left. But I don’t think it really mattered. She knew the bookseller at 18 Charing Cross Road well, had walked the campus of Oxford with Harriet Vane, had wandered the moors with Heathcliff and was almost a permanent resident of St Mary Mead. She met hundreds of interesting people in her untraveled lifetime and had no end of adventures she would have been horrified to consider in real life.

I think that’s one of the reasons we read, fiction at least. There are very few of us who will ever stumble over a dead body and find ourselves being chased by the murderer through dark alleys because we discovered his identity. We’re almost guaranteed not to find a cure for a strange virus that threatens to destroy the world before midnight. We’ll never follow a covered wagon across the mountains, or be attacked by Indians, or visit Japan in the 17th century. And I don’t think very many of us will become bounty hunters and get our cars blown up. Of course, you never know—.

But in books, there is no limit to where we can go and who we can meet. Isn’t it wonderful?

Of course, we don’t read exclusively to have adventures, although they’re fun. We read primarily because of the people we meet. Think about it. The people you’ve met through reading, the ones you’ll never forget. Next time we’ll talk about them.

But now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to catch an airplane and I have this book—.