A Marathon in Westeros

In closing the back cover of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book five, A Dance with Dragons, this past week, I have now “binge read” four series of novels. (Yes, I know A Song of Ice and Fire is not yet a complete series, but work with me here.) Of those, A Song of Ice and Fire has felt the most like a marathon run. If you’re familiar with the books, I’m sure you’ll understand why: the breadth of the lore and world of Westeros (and Esos) and the sheer volume of literature is simply overwhelming. Combine that with the famed emotional turmoil of Martin’s writing, and you have quite the run ahead of you. And yet, there’s some twisted, masochistic element in it because you find yourself drawn in and you can’t help but keep reading.

And while I’m slightly perturbed that I now must wait however long it takes for book six, The Winds of Winter, to be published and find out what happens next (and only the Seven know how long for book seven…), I’m also thankful for a breather. I don’t read series very often, so I consider it quite the feat for over half of my very first 8,000-page year to be technically the same story.

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A Banner Year for Reading

It looks like 2014 is to set a solid personal record for the number of pages I have read. Chalk it up to reading all seven books of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and (so far) the first four books of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series this year. I’m now on A Song of Ice and Fire book five (A Dance with Dragons), which will bring me firmly past 8000 pages for this year. For some this might not be that big of a deal, but as a slow reader, I’m quite happy. And yet, somehow my “to read” list hasn’t shrunk.

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Is it really fiction?

“Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself.”
-Marcel Proust

Recently I’ve been reflecting on how we can unconsciously make such strong connections to works of fiction. We know the story isn’t real, but somewhere in there we have found a little bit of ourselves. Sometimes it’s a character’s reflection of ourselves, our past revisiting us in a new form, or perhaps even a story we long for for ourselves. Probably the most common of these connections is that between ourselves and a character. We tell ourselves that they’re not real, and yet when they’re happy, we smile with them; when they sorrow, we share their tears; when they grieve, we mourn the loss of a friend; when they achieve great things, we feel a little taller; and when they break with their conscience, we experience guilt.

We want the best for this person we’ve grown attached to, and we often find ourselves unable to stop reading. And when we’ve found a little bit of ourselves in a character, we wait with bated breath to find out how their story will end, hoping to uncover a little hope for our own lives down the road. Such is my case. My logic and reason scream at me to ignore this emotional nonsense as I usually do, but these cries go unheeded. Why, I cannot explain. I deeply believe in the power of the mind, but there seem to be times when something strikes a resounding chord within us that no tricks of the mind can dampen.

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