When relaxing with my housemates yesterday, we embarked on the classic game of ‘Would you rather…’ to pass the time (I think it originated from ‘would you rather have arms for legs or legs for arms?’ – arms for legs of course!) Quickly running out of comparisons, we enlisted the help of one of many websites that generate these binary oppositions and briefly entertained ourselves with debating this or that. Of course, we couldn’t leave it black and white, we had to inject some grey areas of ‘it depends if…’ or ‘do they mean…’ to see if we could find a loophole ourselves.
One example was:
Would you rather…
Never read a book again OR never hear music again?
I decided I would rather never read a book again, on the basis of the loophole that exists – the wonderful world of audio books. But of course, this is not truly satisfactory.
I have pondered over this question more than others we had asked, because I can honestly say I have no idea which would be better, or rather, which would be worse. I mean, think about it from my point of view. I love books. I’m studying a degree in English, for crying out loud. While not every book inspires my life, and I certainly don’t hold some of the ‘Classics’ in as high regard as they receive, there’s still something so attractive about reading a book.
Picture this: it’s a freezing cold day in winter. You can’t feel your hands, and in fact you’ve pretty much convinced yourself that you have frostbite in your fingertips now. Your jeans are damp from the rain you trudged through and the splash by that puddle at the bottom of the garden path you always forget about. The key seems to take an age to find its home in the lock, delaying your return to sanctuary. You practically fall through the door, dropping the stack of paper you had been clutching and the ten-tonne bag on to the floor, entering your domain in a far from graceful manner. A sigh. Scooping everything back up, you make it to your bedroom and drop everything on the desk, rubbing your hands and seeking the warmth of your radiator. A trip to the kitchen for that much-needed cup of tea, slightly sweeter than normal, and returning to the bedroom. You change out of your clinging wet clothes and throw on those old fluffy pyjamas you probably should’ve thrown out years ago. The steam from the tea warms your face as you tentatively take a sip, careful not to scold your cold chapped lips. Perched on the end of your bed, you pick up the book you’ve been dying to read, flicking the pages with your thumb like a flip book. Unconsciously leaning back against your pillows, you open the cover. The traces of set jaw and frown fade the stress of your day away, and you visibly relax. The marching procession of curves, lines and dots parade the page, hooking a lasso around your mind and tugging you in. That’s it, you’re found.
You’re found in a world only you can build, guided by an unknown entity which presents to you a skeleton, which you alone can flesh out. You meet people you don’t realise you already know, their faces sculpted by the thousand faces you pass each day in the street. You discover which ones you like, relate to, are attracted to – and their opposites. You get sucked in to a whole universe of someone else’s life, following their days and relationships, their emotions. But their emotions are your emotions. You feel tense when they tighten up, worry when it all falls apart, celebrate when they fix it back up, and wonder what will happen next. You might meet their Mum or Dad, a close friend, or fall in love with their perfect match. A perfect match who, coincidentally, just happens to tick all of your own boxes. Perhaps they travel the world, get in a fight, rob a bank, save the day, who knows what could happen in this place. You walk their streets, wear their clothes, say their words, you think their thoughts. The edges are a little blurred now, who starts where?
At some point, you are jolted back to reality, catapulted into Today, landing with a bump into Now. Looking around your room, you find yourself pondering the latest events of the book. What would you do? How’s it all gonna figure out? Without realising, you’ve shoved your feet into a cocoon in the duvet, you’re led practically in the foetal position and yep, when you go to take another sip you find you’ve finished you’re cup of tea already. An hour has slipped you by. The tasks you were supposed to do are now calling your name fervently, but it doesn’t seem so hard now. Even the sun seems to have repelled the rain for a while. You get up and continue with your evening, but in the back of your mind a little door creaks open, a face peeping out with a ‘pssst!’ beckoning you back into their world.