I am reading two books right now.
Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville, and Without A Map, by Meredith Hall.
Perdido Street Station takes the reader to New Crobuzon, a fictional city thriving below the decaying corpse of a giant creature.
Without A Map takes the reader to remote regions of the world and remote regions of human emotion.
The books are on opposite ends of the spectrum from each other, from steampunk fantasy to grief-stricken memoir. But the books are quite alike in one aspect: they take the reader on a journey, one I feel confident saying is outside the norm of most of our everyday lives.
From Perdido Street Station:
“New Crobuzon was a city unconvinced by gravity.
Aerostats oozed from cloud to cloud above it like slugs on cabbages. Militia-pods streaked through the heart of the city to its outlands, the cables that held them twanging and vibrating like guitar strings hundreds of feet in the air. Wyrmen clawed their way above the city leaving trails of defecation and profanity. Pigeons shared the air with jackdaws and hawks and sparrows and escaped parakeets. Flying ants and wasps, bees and bluebottles, butterflies and mosquitoes fought airborne war against a thousand predators, aspises and dheri that snapped at them on the wing. Golems thrown together by drunken students beat mindlessly through the sky on clumbsy wings made of leather or paper or fruit-rind, falling apart as they flew. Even the trains that moved innumerable women and men and commodities around New Crobuzon’s great carcass fought to stay above the houses, as if they were afraid of the putrefaction of architecture.”
And from Without A Map:
“I walk with no plan, through Ba’albek and Masyaf and Saida and Sabkha and back through Masyaf. In every place, men and women greet me with hands extended. They smile, drawing me in as if I belong to them. I have no idea who they think I am. They share food with me, flatbread and warm tangy yogurt from the bowl on their door stone; it always means they leave their own meal hungry. A woman beating a rug in her yard calls to me as I walk by her house. She looks sad and tired, like all the people here. She holds up her hand: Wait. I sit against the low cement wall surrounding her dusty yard. In ten minutes she comes to me with two eggs, fried warm and runny and life-saving, and flatbread to sop it up. She stands smiling while I eat, her black skirt and thin black shoes powdered with dust, her hens wandering near us, pecking in the dirt.”
One of the main characters in Perdido is Lin. She’s a khepri, which means she has a beetle-like head and a human body. A very attractive woman’s body to be precise. In my imagination, her face resembles a sleek, red ant.
Without A Map is a memoir, so the main character is the author. She recounts her sad history, being shunned at age sixteen for getting pregnant, losing all sense of herself and traveling — walking — to the far regions of the world.
I have little to nothing in common with either of these characters.
And this is why I read. To step into the unfamiliar. To experience another life. To see a different part of the world, or visit a world that exists only between the pages of a book. I may never visit the Middle East, and I certainly will never visit New Crobuzon, but because of these books — because of reading — I feel like I have.
I hope to do the same with my books, for my readers.