I admit I’ve been feeling quite sad lately although I’m not sure I should admit this. People feel sad about all sorts of things far more serious than this and my sadness seems utterly trivial in comparison. Nonetheless I do feel sad.
What do I feel sad about?
There are whole series of books I want to read but have reluctantly but realistically concluded that I’ll probably never be able to read them in my lifetime in this world. I’m mainly talking about book series like Robert Jordan’s mammoth Wheel of Time, Peter Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn and Commonwealth sagas, Tad Williams’ Otherland series (four books) and Robin Hobb’s Farseer books featuring Fitz. There are other series by other authors but these are the main ones. I’ve read the first books in these series other than Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice, where Fitz’s story begins, which I’m currently reading.
I used to buy a whole series having read, or begun to read, just the first book, because I was enjoying the story. I was exciting at the thought of a long journey with loved characters. Reading these books took me to worlds I wanted to spend more time in but even more than that I experienced feelings and emotions in these books that gave me a sense of bereavement when I finally reached the end and some of the characters remain with me today. Sooner or later though you have to return to your everyday life but the escapism I found in these stories was, I hesitate to say it, almost akin to a drug, a legal high. So after reading only the first in a series I’d collect the whole series in anticipation that I would read them at some stage in my life. In any case the publishers can reprint the entire series with new covers and, as with Jordan’s Wheel of Time books, I preferred the original covers so I’m glad I bought those!
The turning point, the beginning of the sadness, came when I realised the length of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. It comprised a massive fourteen volumes as well as a prequel. It’s so long that when Jordan died in 2007, fantasy author Brandon Sanderson was enlisted to complete the series using Jordan’s extensive notes which he had left in case he died before completing the books. The sheer length of this story eventually made me seriously conclude that I was unlikely to get through them all in my lifetime.
I thought of trying to learn speed reading but my efforts fell flat, I simply don’t think my reading mind is build for speed. I also find it terribly difficult to skim over words. I don’t know if it’s because I’m on the autism spectrum (a fairly recent diagnosis) but I seem to need to read every word. If I’m reading a book with footnotes I need to read those as well. I find it nigh on impossible to skim over even a boring passage. This all adds to the amount of time needed to read. So I concluded that there were many books I’d simply never get to in my lifetime.
I also read slowly yet seem to be drawn to lengthy books which run to several volumes. I have no idea why! As a result of health complications my concentration levels are relatively low. Sometimes I can only read for maybe half an hour at one sitting then have to give my eyes and brain a rest. It can take me a month to read a standard 350 page book that many could read in a weekend or less.
I remember standing in the science fiction/fantasy section of a Waterstones branch (which no longer exists) in Glasgow and reading the blurb on the reverse side of the very first Robert Jordan Wheel of Time book, The Eye of the World. A science fiction magazine reviewer said, “I read it in three days and will queue for the sequel.” I’ve always remembered that, mainly because there’s no way I could read a book that size in three days and I couldn’t understand how anyone else could. It would take me months because of the slowness of the my reading speed and my short concentration span. It took me a year to read through Peter Hamilton’s The Reality Dysfunction (and that’s just the first in the Night’s Dawn trilogy) though I loved it even with its sometimes pretty intricately detailed evolution of a future universe and sentient space ship descriptions. I remember chatting with a Costa coffee shop barista once about the Night’s Dawn trilogy. He had noticed me carrying The Reality Dysfunction and he was reading the same book. Over the course of a few weeks he had finished the entire trilogy while I was still on the first volume. Although he has also read Tolkien’s The Silmarillion which I understood at the time was only read by die hard Tolkien fans.
It took me two years to read through Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy (quadrilogy in paperback) though I loved them as well. A long awaited sequel series is now in the works with the first book to be published next year (2017). You can read about this at tadwilliams.com and ostenard.com amongst other fan sites. I’m already both excited and sad. Excited because this is a continuation of a prior series that I have actually read my way through even if it was twenty years ago and I’ve forgotten much of the story! Sadness because already I’ve decided I may never get through them in this world.
I jump about between books as well. When I reach the hundred or so page mark I reach a kind of critical mass and need to have a break before returning to it. As an aside I was so overcome with a sense of achievement when I finished Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn adventure that I wrote to Williams thanking him for his story and (inevitably) asking when the next one would be out. I also apologised because it has taken me so long, two years, to read through them. To my astonishment he actually replied, thanking me for my letter and saying not to apologise and that reading the books slowly was a change from others who said they had read his books (which had taken him several years to write) over a few days and asked him when the next one was due…when he was still in a state of creative exhaustion having finished the last series!
Perhaps that’s part of the problem. I’m frequently drawn to longer books. We’re not talking about C S Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles which are fairly small books. In fact join them all together into one book comprising the whole series and you’d have the entire story in the size of just the first volume of many contemporary books. I’m talking about series where each individual volume can be a minimum of 700 pages long.
Further, some people can move straight from the end of one book into another without batting an eyelid. I can’t. I need a period between books to process the reading experience I’ve just had, the emotions awakened and lived through. If I start reading another book straight away the characters and story lines from the previous book are still far too prominent in my mind and imagination. I need time between books.
All this brought about the sadness in me. I realised there were stories I’d never get to, journeys I had loved (the first volumes I’d read) but would never make it to the end of even if I made it through several volumes. In an effort to deal with this dilemma I had an interesting (to me) thought. Will these books, Robert Jordan, Peter Hamilton, Tad Williams, Robin Hobb and others, be available to read in the next world, in heaven?
At this stage the theologian in me pops his head up. There is of course the argument that when I finally get to heaven I will be so taken up with the sheer glory of being there that my mind won’t even consider such earthly things any more. But then the theology doesn’t only begin when we reach heaven. Theology is about our interaction with God at every stage of our lives right now, including the stories we read and love and which become a part of the story of our own lives in this world now.
The sadness of this present realisation is rendered somewhat relative when thinking of the words of the Bible in 1 Corinthians 2 verse 9:
No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him.
This tells me that when I get to heaven the things I considered of such value in the here and now, although they did and do provide such enjoyment and pleasure in this world, will pale into insignificance in light of the sheer glory of what heaven is and will be and my experience of it.
There is a conundrum here.
The same things which will be part of the ‘old order of things’ from the perspective of heaven, do provide, and I believe are used by God to provide, real hope and joy and inspiration right now, in the reality of our existence now.
People have whole life times invested in series over years and years, from childhood into adulthood. I read, on an Amazon review I think, a review of Stephen Donaldson’s final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. They said they had started reading these books in their teenage years and they had formed a treasured part of their lives. I confess I could never get into the Thomas Covenant books so not reading them isn’t a cause of sadness for me but there are others for whom they are like deeply loved friends. Others said the same about Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I read of one woman who’d written to King asking him to please finish the series before she died!
So here’s my big conundrum. When the world ends, when I depart this life, will that mark the end of my chance to read these books…or will I be able to read them in heaven…or won’t it matter to me any more?
In the end I’ve reconciled myself to this in the following ways:
First, I will probably never read all these books in this world but it’s at least possible I’ll still be able to read them in the next. This actually did help me receive a measure of peace for my sadness, thinking that I could continue my reading journey in the next world. I’d also be able to read through them quicker because I’d be freed from health complications, being fully healed. Also, there wouldn’t actually be any time limit for reading books because there would be no more time, no more death, no more finite limitations.
Second, I won’t be able to read them in the next world but the next world will be so wonderful that it won’t matter to me anymore. This is important because so many of the things that concern us in this world in relation to the next world are a result of not understanding that we’ll have a totally transformed, glorified mindset in heaven. We won’t think the way we do now. We won’t be sad.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Revelation 21 verse 4
Actually I’m looking forward to writing books in heaven but that’s another blog post.
These have been some of my thoughts on books in this world and the next.
Post written by Norman J Graham