The first time I read Sprye’s book Heidi, I was 8 years old, and I was so into that story I could close my eyes and be on that mountain living with the grandfather. Long before the movie came out, I imagined myself climbing up the mountain every day with Peter, listening to the goats baaing and their bells jingling. I felt Peter’s angst when the little goat fell onto a ledge and he had to be saved. I was there. Living the life of Heidi even though I’d never been out of the US. Later I curled up with the Nancy Drew mysteries and I was the sleuth. I paid close attention to all the little details, and I so wanted to solve that mystery before Nancy figured it out. Reading was a ticket out of where I lived and into somewhere else. Somewhere more exciting.
In my teens I came upon a trilogy set on a remote island off the coast of Maine. To begin with, I had a thing for islands and I loved the ocean. But even more, the heroine was a young woman very like me, smart, stubborn, impulsive and ready to throw my heart into anything that caught my fancy. And because I was so like Joanna, I felt like I was there, living her life, falling in love with the exciting stranger, even when I felt sorry for the steady young man who’d loved her since she was a girl. Years later, when I read the author’s autobiography, I discovered that island really existed, and I talked my dad into sailing out there one summer to see it in person. Most of the full time residents had moved ashore long before, but the buildings still stood. We crept cautiously through the old clubhouse where Joanna had learned to dance and hiked down to the eastern end where her brother lived after he married. It was just as I’d imagined it years before when I read the books.
Reading can be an adventure through time, too. Recently Starz brought Dianna Gabaldon’s Outlander to the screen, but more than twenty years ago, I traveled back through those stones with Claire and fell in love with Jamie Fraser. I rode horses and visited castles. I roughed it with a band of Scottish border rascals and loved every minute. In the end, I ached for the lost identity of Scotland when the triumphant British crushed the clans at Culloden. Even though I’d known that bit of history before I read the books, Gabaldon made it come alive for me in a whole new way.
I’ve never been to Edisto Island in South Carolina, but C. Hope Clark made it come alive for me, from the tang of salt in the air, to the rush of waves on the beach, to the close-knit community. I’d like to go there for real some day, but in the meantime, her heroine, Callie Jean Morgan, shares her world with me, getting to the bottom of mysteries and debunking tales of a jinx. I’ve seen Sanibel Island through the eyes of Doc Ford, and experienced the nail biting tension of the fight against terrorism and international espionage with Jack Ryan Jr and Mitch Rapp, thanks to authors like Randy Wayne Wright, Tom Clancy and Vince Flynn.
Non-fiction can transport us just as magically to another time or place. You can go on safari in Africa, take a boat up the Amazon River, hike the Appalachian Trail, snorkel over the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, or visit another era. Sometimes you get to live those adventures first hand, but there just isn’t enough time to do it all in one person’s life. But you can enjoy all these adventures and more in a book. Not too long ago, my heart and soul were in the belly of a military helicopter and I was holding my breath while a brave female medic went down on a cable to save a wounded soldier and the pilot kept a steady hand on the controls in spite of weather, inhospitable terrain and enemy fire. Eric Sabiston was that pilot and he wrote about his real life experiences in Afghanistan in Dustoff 7-3.
Every once in awhile I read alarming statistics that discuss the declining number of adults who read for pleasure in today’s world. I feel sorry for those who’ve never found the excitement and joy of reading for fun. You don’t have to be wealthy. Anyone with a library card can find endless adventures, both imaginary and real to take them away from their world to another. The advent of e-readers makes it even easier to take your adventures with you wherever you might go. I always travel light, but tucked into a pocket, or my backpack is my Kindle with dozens of books, some fiction, some non-fiction. A little romance, a little suspense. Even my smart phone has the Kindle app on it, and I can escape into whatever adventure I’m on at the moment while waiting at the doctor’s office, in a traffic jam, in a long line at the grocery store, or sitting in the park.
If you haven’t read a book since you got out of school, I encourage you to give it a try. The adventure is there – you just have to reach out and grab hold.