Growing up, I was constantly told to get my nose out of the books and to start paying more attention to what was happening around me. I was, and still am, terribly oblivious when I have a book in my hands.
The funny thing I found, though, is that the more I read, the more I began to feel like I understand the world in which I live.
They say art imitates life, and I found this to be true when comparing the pages of my favorite novel to what I experienced on a daily basis. Here are some lessons I’ve learned from simply leafing through the novels in my library:
5. People are imperfect.
Perfect characters make for boring literature. By page 50, readers will likely set down a book if they’re unable to relate to the characters. Messy, imperfect individuals can’t relate to a character that is completely altruistic and doesn’t make mistakes.
Reading about the portraits of real people (if they are well-developed characters) taught me that no one has all of the answers. If they believe they do, they are usually very, very wrong and end up dying a hundred pages in or so.
4. Everyone has a struggle.
In a well-crafted novel, even secondary characters have to face trials, too. These may seem less important than obstacles over which the main characters must win, but that doesn’t make them any less significant.
We can sometimes get so wrapped up in everything with which we’re dealing as the “main characters” of our own lives that sometimes, we forget that others are dealing with some issues, as well.
Reading taught me to take a look at things from other perspectives — and how that perspective can be just as legitimate as your own. I believe that I empathize more with others because reading has taught me to think of how other people are also facing their own demons.
3. If it’s implied, it’s probably true.
Characters have secret motives and reasons for some of their actions and dialogues, and people often do, too. Nothing is ever as straightforward as it seems in a well-written novel, and real-life friends and family often hide their own thoughts and feelings under layers of white lies or implications.
There is a lot we don’t tell others, so when something is hinted at more than once or twice, it’s usually a sign that something is up. If your boyfriend mentions more than four times that he’s headed downtown to hang with friends, you might want to suspect something else is happening. Or maybe, just after reading so many books about affairs, I’m just ultra-paranoid.
2. Life is a choice — and you need to take responsibility for it.
A good main character takes about as much control over his or her life as possible. Though he or she may feel as though the world is getting out of hand, taking charge of the situation and doing the best job possible is important. Sometimes, they are forced to do so, and other times, they find the courage they need in order to get the job done.
Either way, at the end of the novel, the protagonist will realize that he or she is in control of life choices and consequences. Realizing that you are the own author of your life can make a huge difference in how you see the world and how you end up reacting to it.
1. Happy endings (and endings in general) are relative.
The older I grew and the higher-quality of literature I began to read, the more I realized that life doesn’t always end how it’s “supposed” to; in fact, it can be pretty terrible.
The good part? A novel ends, while life keeps going. A writer might believe that a certain point in a character’s life is the perfect place to end the story, but in the world of flesh-and-blood characters, that’s not usually how it goes.
Life is more cyclical than that; you meet the same people over and over during different points of your life, and there is no rising or falling action.
New beginnings are yours if you choose them, and endings (like saying goodbye to a friend, a break-up, a death) are yours to decide how you wish to handle.
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