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Cherish the real

| Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Spring break is not in two weeks.

It can’t be. I still have two papers, a rewrite, a project and two midterms to tackle, not to mention rehearsals and work and … oh yeah, going to classes. All in 14 days.

Did I stress you out? My bad. I stressed myself out, too.

Despite these thrilling tasks awaiting me, I was procrastinating away on Saturday morning in a friend’s room after a long week. Said friend was putting away laundry and decided to introduce me to a podcast called “The Newest Olympian” by the hilariously engaging Mike Schubert. 

I thought the name sounded familiar. If you did too, it might be because you have also discovered his first podcast, “Potterless,” in which listeners join Mike as he reads the “Harry Potter” series for the first time at the cynical age of 24. “The Newest Olympian” is exactly that, but make it “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” by the fantasy-mythology-YA genius Rick Riordan.

My friend hit play on the first episode of “The Newest Olympian” as I poked around my column idea notes for this week’s inspiration.

Five minutes in, Mike was absolutely delighted that the first chapter of “The Lightning Thief” (the first book in the series) is titled “I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher,” and I had the overwhelming desire to promptly abandon all responsibilities and just be a kid, sitting in a cozy place, escaping into that childhood favorite.

But I’m not a kid. I’m a college student, sitting on the floor of a dorm room, grasping at motivation as it floats away like a red balloon. Or a blue balloon. Or a lavender balloon with polka dots.

As I’m distractedly fighting the urge to escape, I find a journal prompt I had jotted down:

“What book setting would you live in if you could?”

A side note: If you don’t know me, the one thing to know is that I’ve spent my life with my nose in a book. Nowadays, it’s more often textbooks, unfortunately. Rory Gilmore said it best:

“I live in two worlds; one is a world of books.”

So naturally, I immediately started browsing my mental library for the best book setting to live in, and I found myself among my childhood favorites. You know, the ones that would make the world slip away, taking with it any chores and homework and the occasional annoying sibling? Like the “Percy Jackson” books.

The aforementioned podcast was still twittering away, drifting in and out of my conscious listening.

What would it be like to live in that mid-2000s New York City, sidequesting with the good-naturedly sarcastic narrator that is Percy Jackson? Would I get to be a demigod with cool abilities? Would I heroically fight for the survival and make heartwrenching decisions and defend my city in combat of mythological proportions?

Wait.

Fight for survival? Heartwrenching choices? Combat?

Swap out the swashbuckling fiction and put those words under a news headline and I suddenly question the rationale for that literary escapism.

Fair warning, the rambling is about to get real.

Why do we ask these questions about what book we’d want to move into? Would we rather face the collapse of a home and loss of family or friends than take an exam?

It’s a sobering thought. Those things are really happening for people today, and they don’t have magical powers. If you actually had the option to trade the mundane obligations of exam-taking and essay-writing for the uncertainty and danger of those fantastical adventures, would you?

I’m asking some maybe too-serious questions, I know. But it got me thinking. I am blessed to not have my survival threatened daily or have to make heartwrenching choices in my own life. So why do I enjoy reading books with those things?

I guess the most obvious difference here is that in books, it’s made up. It’s fiction. It’s romanticized and written with a light hand to feed our human desire for demonstrations of perseverance, of loyalty, of compassion and of love. All things our fictional friends find and demonstrate in the midst of their battles. What we hope to find and demonstrate in our lives.

Now let’s take a step back.

That journal prompt doesn’t ask what book plot we’d like to live through, though. It asks what book setting we’d move to. If we could have the exhilaration of adventure and magic and camaraderie without the life-threatening encounters, then what are we waiting for?

We may not wish for those heavy-duty issues when we spend a minute thinking about it. There is, however, something to be said for the badassery we’d feel while wielding a sword or flying through the clouds.

The next time you read a book of fiction, maybe a childhood favorite, take a minute to let your suspension of disbelief fall away and imagine what the world would be like for real. Imagine it happening in your town. On your campus.

Would you still want to live in it?

Cherish the real.

And then throw that suspension of disbelief right back up because that’s why the author wrote that story — to take you well away from reality and leave your heart full of those human intangibles of perseverance and loyalty and love. Come back to the world and find a way to show them in your own life.

Make it real.

Conquer these next two weeks.

Madeline Law is a Saint Mary’s junior from Petoskey, Michigan. She studies English literature and communication studies with a minor in theatre. If you can find her, she’ll either be adding books to scattered to-read lists or rereading old favorites. Reach her at [email protected] and send book suggestions.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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