I do not read to think (Stephen Sondheim's escapist fiction manifesto)

Last night, Jerusha and I saw the legend herself, Barbara Cook, in the Broadway show Sondheim on Sondheim at Studio 54. (Yes, they've taken down the cocaine spoon.) In this ingeniously staged review of Sondheim's hits, flops, and almosts, Barbara sang "I Read" from Passion, which so perfectly captures the intellectual reasons for turning to books that are pure escapist pleasure trips.
I do not read to think. I do not read to learn.
I do not read to search for truth
I know the truth, the truth is hardly what I need.
I read to dream.
I read to live. In other people's lives.
I read about the joys, the world
Dispenses to the fortunate,
And listen for the echoes.

I read to live,
To get away from life...

I read to fly, to skim -
I do not read to swim.


The thing is, I can't separate thinking from living, and I don't know if I really want to. If a book only has escapist value for me, I'm likely to put it down, unless it is incredibly well-written.

I guess for me, what I'm looking for is a chord that resonates with me, whether it's the author's voice, their storyline, or some intangible quality in the book. If I want to escape, I watch bad T.V. Mark always finds it funny that I can watch hours and hours of mindless T.V. but not tolerate escapist films or books. I really don't know why that is. Maybe it's because a television program generally only demands a half an hour of my time, whereas a movie demands more, and a book even more.

Anyway, I think we all have different reasons for enjoying books. And I don't mind escapism if it points to something greater.
Joni Rodgers said…
Well, then I guess, either
A) the song's not about you
B) it was much more profound when Barbara Cook sang it.
Mylène said…
Very nearly what a woman in a doctor's waiting room once told me. I try to keep it mind--partly. I read to swim.
Love this, Joni! And I agree it's very often true. And fun besides. Glad you're having a great time in NYC with Jeru.

I'm dealing with a very stressful family situation right now, and if I didn't have my Kindle (and my own WIP) to escape to...
It's probably A, Joni. ;) And teaching and taking so many workshops has sort of tainted my perspective. It's so hard for me now to enter a world, because it's so easy for me to see the artifice behind it. I'm trying to turn that off to enjoy things more, but find it very hard to do.

So sorry to hear about your situation, Colleen. I'm glad you have that Kindle.
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Oh, and this may be a little off-topic, but what this post got me to thinking was that mindless does not necessarily equal escapism and that neither equals bad writing. In fact, I think the best writing does provide that total immersion. And I've seen a lot of literary stuff that had as its primary flaw a lack of magic, which is the best way I can put it. The irony is those books DIDN'T make me think, because they didn't allow me to escape. So maybe for me the two are married?

Ha, you've unknowingly tapped into my "writer without a genre" angst.

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