One thing I always enjoy reading is interviews with people who talk about books that have been life-changing or influential for them. The books people list in these interviews are always either self-help or inspirational memoirs. Sometimes religious or political stuff.
This sort of interview makes me think. I read a lot. There have been many books that I have loved, for one reason or another. But have any of them changed the way I do things? The way I act? Maybe not. Some have probably broadened my views, or developed them, but that’s about it. I don’t recall ever reading a book, putting it down, and thinking, “I am going to change my life and do ____ from now on,” and then gone ahead and done it.
This has always worried me a bit, as one thing I like to do in my head is imagine I am famous and respected and being interviewed for something. I like to plan answers to questions in case this ever happens. I would like to sound intelligent and witty. You never know when you will become suddenly and inexplicably famous, and it’s always important to be prepared. And I’ve always thought I’d have no answer for that one. And maybe that would make me look either illiterate or close-minded or both.
But I just thought of a book that did change my behaviours, even if that was never a conscious decision: C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I think I read this when I was seven or eight or whatever age kids are when they read this book. And immediately after finishing it, I started checking closets. And pantries. And cupboards. And any random door that did not have a sign indicating that it was alarmed or going to electrocute me.
This made perfect sense to me. Why shouldn’t there be other worlds and why shouldn’t I be able to find them if I opened enough doors? (I’m sure there’s a metaphor for something in there somewhere.) My certainty was cemented when I read The Phantom Tollbooth. Who needs science when fantasy books abound? Turns out though, there even are scientists who think parallel universes are possible. Maybe not through closets, but really, that’s just a detail.
And if a scientist who knows about science can be convinced of such things, well, a sponge-minded, extremely credulous seven-year old is a sure thing. And I’ve talked to people since and I know I’m not alone. Other kids did this after reading this book too. I haven’t read that book in a really long time, and I’ve since been told there’s all this religious subtext stuff in it. But I think Lewis missed his mark there and most kids, if they were anything like me, didn’t catch any of it. What they took away from it was the belief that if they found the right door, they could find a magic place with talking animals.
With age, however, and enough closets that are only closets, comes skepticism. Eventually I stopped expecting there to be magic worlds in those closets.
That sounds sappy, but this is not a post about lost innocence or childhood or whatever. This is a post about me being kind of a freak and having my life changed by a children’s book. Because the thing is, habits are hard to break. By the time I had decided I was probably not going to find Narnia (still not 100% ruling it out though), I was a compulsive closet/pantry/cupboard/random door opener.
I quit biting my nails when I was 12, but I’ve never quit checking closets. If I’ve been to your place and you’ve left me alone for more than a couple of minutes, I’ve probably checked yours. Sorry. But don’t worry; I don’t care what you’ve got in there. I’m not going to judge you or tell anyone. (Unless it’s dead bodies. That’s not ok. I would both judge you and tell.) I’m just doing a quick check to see if you’re harbouring a portal to another dimension. Don’t mind me.