Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hospitals and Books

When Mom was being prepped for surgery on Monday, I noticed that one of the nurses was carrying around a hardcover book. It turned out to be Orson Scott Card’s The Lost Gate, one of the books Lauren and I considered getting from Audible before getting Card’s Pathfinder instead. We chatted a bit about that book and Card’s work more generally, and she closed by assuring me that she didn’t read while she was on duty, just on her breaks. 

It seemed a bit odd, then, that she’d be carrying it around—do the nurses have no place to put their things? But perhaps it’s not that important, especially since I have a soft spot for any of my fellow book lovers. Granted that no one’s life or well-being was on the line, but when I worked at Border’s, I routinely hunkered down and read books while I was on the clock, either tucked away in the stock room or, what the heck, out in my section where I was “shelving” books. I would hasten to add that I routinely got good reviews from my supervisors, who said I got more done than anyone they’d ever had shelving literature. Seriously? What were those slackers up to?

But I’ve digressed from where I meant to go. I was thinking instead of the link in my personal history between books and hospitals. I’ve been a book lover more or less all my life. I started to love fantasy when I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in 5th grade. Late in 6th grade, though, this love was really confirmed as something like an emotional necessity. That spring, my father had the first seizure that marked his battle with brain tumors. After the ambulance came, my mother rode with dad to the hospital and I went to the neighbor’s, where for comfort I wrapped up in the quilt my Grannie had made for me and read a novel by Piers Anthony until I couldn’t stay awake any longer. That sort of thing would be my coping mechanism through the next several years as my father slowly lost that battle.

Fantasy was in some ways the perfect companion, as it allowed an escape not just from my own life but from the real world. At the same time, it gave me strength to deal with the problems I had, in a way that I'm not sure I can adequately describe. I remember my freshman year of college, writing some sort of essay about Achilles as "hero" and getting completely shot down for my skewed view of what a "hero" is: because in so much fantasy literature, the hero is idealized and always triumphant, and in some ways those heroes gave me a model, I guess.

Or at any rate, they gave me a better way to pass the time than sitting around a hospital thinking about how my father was dying.


  1. "At the same time, it gave me strength to deal with the problems I had, in a way that I'm not sure I can adequately describe."

    I highly recommend "Among Others" by Jo Walton. The meta-story is a love song to books, and addresses this very same idea. I'm not sure I can adequately verbalize what place books in general and fantasy in particular hold in my life (and have helped in difficult times), but this novel of hers comes close.

    The protagonist is not a "heroine" in any sense of the word, but she is someone you'll recognize.

  2. I think we bibliophiles would all tell similar tales of books getting us through the times in our lives when unadulterated reality was more than we could bear. It is no coincidence that I started writing them when I was struggling with PTSD. The therapists kept saying I had to "talk it through" and write about what happened, none of which helped. It was when I started writing about anything else that I finally started to heal.