The Literature of Life – Annika Doberenz

The Literature of Life – Annika Doberenz

I had not stood up for hours. My legs were squished, but I could not have cared less. My head was stuck in a book, and I was splendidly happy. I heard footsteps coming down the hallway, and poked my head out to see who would come in. When Mom walked into my room, she stopped suddenly and cocked her head at me. I grinned back at her from my closet, where I had somehow managed to cram an ottoman, a small table, a stack of novels, and myself. Although it was not necessarily comfortable for extended periods of time, I did not really care. So long as I had a book, I could (and did) sit in there for hours. 

Books are an elixir to me. They are an elixir which I could happily drink forever. Books are the type of elixir of which I will always simultaneously love and dread the last bittersweet drop. I cannot remember a time of my life during which books were not a prominent and constant presence. Before I could read, those who loved me would read to me. When I learned to read, my world exploded. Unless forced, I will never stop reading. 

Unfortunately, there have been times when I have been forced to stop reading. Remem- bering those days, it makes me laugh to think of how many times I got in trouble as a kid for reading when I was supposed to be doing other things. My schoolwork took the backseat more times than it should have. Whereas most people probably would have learned their lesson quite a bit faster than I did, it was to my detriment that I found out that reading was by far the most enjoyable form of procrastination. On countless nights, my sister and I would stay up reading under the covers with flashlights, muscles tensed to click them off at the slightest indication that mom or dad was in the hallway. Most nights, we got away with it. Some nights, we did not. On those tragic occasions, our flashlights and books would be taken away, and whichever parent had caught us would smile and say something along the lines of, “I love you, and I love that you love to read, but you need to sleep!” Other times, I would wake up early to crack the curtains and let in only the slightest sliver of light, so that I could read as the sun rose without disturbing my sister. My hindsight is a little blurry; I was probably damaging my eyesight more than I realized. However, until I go prematurely blind, I will stubbornly contest that it was entirely worth it, if for no other reason than for the memories I made, memories of letting myself get lost in the melodies of literature. 

The parallels between reading music and reading words have always fascinated me, which has heavily influenced my love for all things musical. Poetry has always been one of my favorite types of literature because the words take on a rhythm and a cadence that beautifully combines the art of making music with the art of writing words. Although I have written very little poetry, and even less music, I will never tire of reading it. I have vivid memories of devouring Shel Silverstein’s poetic banquets as a young girl. I honestly cannot guess at how many times I read my copy of Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. Silly, absurd, and frankly preposterous, not one of those poems made any logical sense. They were poems about the little girl who swore she would eat an entire whale, but only succeeded just before her 100th birthday. They were about the boy who threw a rock and knocked down the sun. They were about the three men who “went for a ride in a flying shoe,” whose names were “Ickleme, Pickleme [and] Tickleme, too”. But as nonsensical and illogical as they were, they had a profound impact upon my life. Like the poetry itself, the influence these poems had on me may not make much sense to most people. To me, however, its meaning is precious; it was the first poetry I ever read, and I fell in love with it. 

An integral part of all of my family’s adventures has always been reading, specifically reading out loud together. Since we were old enough to understand, my parents have been reading books to my siblings and me. We spent almost a year living as missionaries in Africa, and while we were there, we read books like James and the Giant Peach and The Black Beauty. I remember listening intently from the back seat on various car trips we have taken over the years to The Sign of the Beaver, Wish You Well, and Words on Fire. As perfect as those times have been, my favorite memories are the ones of us piled on the couches, curled up on giant bean bags under blankets, or sitting starry-eyed in our hand-crafted cardboard fortresses, listening to my parents read Harry Potter or The Ranger’s Apprentice for hours on end. We would jump up and race to make them tea the instant that their voices started getting tired. Every second they were not reading was misery, and we begged them to keep going every time a chapter came to a close. Stopping for the night meant promises of reading the next day, and those promises were always kept, because my parents love reading as much as my siblings and I do. In fact, it is because they love reading that we do, and this love for literature has impacted virtually every area of my life.

To the vast majority of people, my taste in books is likely boring. I was never able to get into dystopian literature, science fiction, horror stories, or anything overly modern. However, I am incandescently happy while ensconced in a book by C.S. Lewis, Alexandre Dumas, Joseph Conrad, and so many others that most people would find tedious. I have always loved thinking, and the fact that these authors’ writings require me to think only increases their appeal. I can remember two specific Christmases when I asked for history books, and was perfectly delighted to receive them. Nobody heard or saw much of me for several days after those Christmases. I was hidden away with my textbooks on Archeology in the Old Testament and Ancient Roman Mythology. When I read, my sense of time disappears entirely, and I become so engrossed in my book that somebody can say my name thirty seven times; the only way I will know they are there is if they yank away my book and smack me upside the head with it. 

Most people think I am crazy when they hear that my all-time favorite book is The Count of Monte Cristo. To some, the size is intimidating, but to me, it is a thrilling challenge. The story catalogs the life of Edmond Dantes, who has his future stolen from him when he is on the cusp of achieving everything for which he had ever hoped. Accused of a crime he did not commit, he finds himself unjustly faced with a lifetime in prison. Assisted by a fellow inmate, he escapes. Shortly thereafter, he discovers the single greatest collection of treasure on earth. Rich beyond belief, Dantes embarks on the most impeccably written revenge story of all time. The narrative is so skillfully woven and the story lines are so magnificently intertwined that every time I read it, I discover more threads. With each new revelation, I find myself, once again, in awe of the power of literature, and I pray that that incomparable feeling will never diminish. 

The adventure of literature speaks to me. I would not define myself as an adrenaline junkie, by any means, but I have always loved adventure. I refuse to put myself into positions where I have an unreasonably high risk of dying, but I will always chase adventure and chance, as long as I am not doing anything especially stupid. Those kinds of adventures are monetarily expensive, though, so I tend to live vicariously through the old adventure stories I read. For example, I am once again reading The Three Musketeers, and I am as enchanted with it now as I was the first time I opened it. Literature is an escape. I cannot explain why I have always thought of it that way, because in all honesty, I have lived an incredible life, and I do not have anything from which I am trying to escape. I suppose it is not so much that I am trying to escape from something, but that I am escaping to something, or somewhere, or someone. The characters come alive and make me see the world through their eyes. For someone like me who loves to travel, reading is more than just words; it is an experience. 

For example, in my younger years, I was never obsessed with reading car manuals or encyclopedias or scientific journals, but I did read almost every Geronimo Stilton book ever written. They were about a mouse who lived in New Mouse City, and who was scared of absolutely everything. Of course, he ended up going on every kind of adventure with his crazy, eccentric family, and on those journeys, he was forced to face his fears. As usual, what drew me to those books was the adventure. He got to travel and see everything, and one day, I wanted to get to see and do everything he did. Of course, most of the things he did were impossible, but the ideas themselves were enough to light up my world. 

Ironically, I have been on an insane amount of adventures and experienced a multitude of mind-blowing wonders, but I have never written about them. Journaling has never really been my thing, so I have never cataloged all of the places to which I have been, or all of the incredible things I have been blessed to do. I have skydived over lakes, rappelled through waterfalls, snorkeled around shipwrecks, lived in Africa, been on safaris and had a leopard sitting in a tree directly above my head, gone twelve feet into North Korea underground, gotten trapped in a canyon, ridden elephants in Thailand, and so many other insane things. I should write a book. I do not know why I have never tried. So many people never get the chance to leave one area or to see anywhere else in the world, and the Lord has blessed me so incredibly by making it possible for me to have seen and done so much in my lifetime. Maybe I should let other people live vicariously through me for a change. I have spent eighteen years living through literature as a sort of supplement to the amazing life I have led. If someone could learn to love literature as much as I do by reading something that I wrote, then I would be even more abundantly blessed by that fact. 

My adventures have had an immense impact on who I am, but to an even greater extent, I am the product of my education. Being homeschooled is one of the greatest ways in which I have been blessed. Had I not been homeschooled, I would be an entirely different person from the woman I am now. For one, I would not be nearly as confident of a writer. My mom is, by far, the hardest teacher I have ever had. She expected nothing less than excellence, and so that is what I have learned to deliver. On a related note, I doubt that I would love reading as much as I do, had I gone to “real school,” as my family jokingly calls it. Without the time we spent as a family reading, writing, and discussing literature, I do not believe that books would mean as much to me as they do today. One of my favorite memories is of one Sunday afternoon, when we all ended up piled on the couch reading. We were all immersed in different books, by different people, about different things, but simply being together with our books was delightful. Whereas other families would have turned on the TV, we sat together under blankets, while the rain poured down outside and the fire crackled in the fireplace, and we read. It sounds like a cliché Hallmark movie, but I lived it, and I would not trade that life for the world. I would be lying if I said that my life has been made up entirely of sunshine and rainbows, but literature was a comfort in the times when it was crazy, chaotic, and crumbly. 

Looking back on the life I have led, and the significant impact which literature has had on that life, I find myself pitying those who only experience the crazy, chaotic, and crumbly aspects of life, and who cannot find refuge in literature. It sounds, quite honestly, like a terrifying way to go through life. The influence which literature has had on me is undeniable, and it is an influence which I wish everyone could feel. From personal experience, I know that once the elixir of books is sampled, there is no going back, and that feeling is the ultimate adventure. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *