I got my love of reading from my mom and dad, and my mom got hers from my grandfather. who could read the same Zane Grey novel 57 times and enjoy each round of rereading as much as the first one until his eyesight began to fail him. Now 96 and virtually blind, he cannot read a book even if it were printed on a series of billboards, and of all the things he has lost to the ravages of time, I think the loss of books runs a close sending to the loss of my grandmother.
A few weeks ago, my aunt went to visit him in his eldercare home because he had suddenly seemed to lose touch with reality – he wasn’t able to recognize his own daughter. While he’s ostensibly better, for now, he still insists he hears horses being whipped in the basement and gunplay outside his room. The nurses are baffled by this, but it makes sense to my mom and me: he’s now living part-time in the Westerns he loved, and that’s a bittersweet thing. My other grandfather had such Alzheimer’s-induced confusion by the end of his life he was living in his own world. And I had never, in my whole life, seen him happier.
But on another level, as a writer and lover of fiction, I understand this. Who among us hasn’t wanted, at times, to ditch the real world for a fictional one? Living in a pleasant fictive world for the last years of my life, when I’ve lost the ability to live anywhere else very well, might be a pleasant and gentle transition into whatever happens next.
This got me to wondering where today’s YA readers will “reside” when they reach the point where they cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality any more. Where will their reading take them? Will a generation of oldsters leap – or to attempt to – from their rockers, convinced that vampires and werewolves are lurking in the halls of the old folks’ home? Will they scream in their sleep like Peeta and Katniss, haunted by the memories of the Hunger Games, images so real to them they feel like their own memories? Will someone who fell in love with the classics hear the tinkling of glass in a smart gin and tonic or the strains of a Scott Joplin rag from the party downstairs as they gaze seemingly mindlessly into their closet looking for all of Jay Gatsby’s beautiful shirts? Maybe. There are worse places to be. I hope, if this is my fate, too, that I’ve done enough varied reading to end up “living” somewhere good. I would hate to think some short circuit in my brain sends me to some crap novel I read too many times and not a Regency country home in Austenland. Maybe the fact that I can’t even remember the names of these crap novels will keep me safe – they must not have taken a very deep root in my unconscious.
If you had some control over which book you would live in in your twilight years, what would it be? Who would be your companions? What fictive world would you choose to inhabit?
Drop me a line and let me know wear you would (mentally) spent your last days, part-time, if you could (in addition to the bosom of your loving and healthy family and friends, of course).
What I’m listening to
What I’m reading