Listen, Jena, after that great lunch you whipped up yesterday I showed your brother my newly organized library and talked our way into the idea that books and stories make places and experiences immeasurably better.
Phrases like “those who can’t do teach” and “get your nose out of a book” suggest that reading about some exciting place is a poor or cowardly man’s way of seeing it for himself. The idea there is that reading is a poor imitation of actual experience.
I’m reminded of the advice: “write what you know.” That practice can yield wonderful stuff, but we’d never have Frodo, Aslan, Ender, Dracula, Jekyll or Hyde if every writer stuck only to what they know. Writing (and therefore reading), then, is an experience all its own.
Just after high school I drove with my Dad through Spain. I’d read Hemingway by then, but once I’d seen those hills for myself and watched a bull kill a man in an ancient amphitheater, I didn’t wasting time on Hemingway’s Spain stories. On contrary every pleasure and shock of that trip was made more memorable and exciting by the things I knew about the country from books.
Hemingway was right about bulls, by the way.
Likewise, your brother described sitting on the bank of the Nile, enthralled looking at the river, remembering all the stories he knew had taken place there, at the cradle of civilization.
In Dublin I saw St. Ann’s church, where Bram Stoker was christened and married and was thrilled only because I’d read Dracula. In Oxford we visited the Bodleian Library, more exciting than a roller coaster because Samuel Johnson researched his dictionary there (and yes, also because the Harry Potter hospital wing and library scenes were shot there.)
The idea came up in our discussion that not knowing the stories of a place is the reason people bungee jump at the Nile, or go straight for the Eiffel Tower in Paris and come away disliking the city for its crowds and rudeness.
Books aren’t a poor man’s plane ticket; They are the great tour guides.
Are cities good enough without their books? Should anyone travel to Dublin without reading Joyce? Paris without Hemingway? London without Dickens?