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How to enlarge your senses, your self

One thing I do that I sometimes consider just escape is read. It isn't, though, always or even mostly escape. I admit I read when it would be prudent for me to be doing other things, taking care of nagging little duties, finishing taxes, finishing whatever I promised. Something else I do is take photographs, sometimes also as an escape but perhaps more often as a compulsion. Admittedly, both reading and photographing are compulsions for me, compulsions that I often let overtake duty. Yet they both give back and they make me bigger inside.

Edward S. Curtis was another one who let his desires overtake any sense of duty, if in fact he knew his duty at all. He was a photographer in the late 1800s through the mid-1900s who photographed Native Americans, known then as American Indians or simply Indians. He became a legend because he himself was larger than life. He was strong, capable, inventive, persistent. His images eclipsed any others and are still in great demand. The fact that he was also an absent and neglectful husband and father gets less press, of course, as is usual in the case of what might be called genius.

In the novel The Shadow Catcher, by Marianne Wiggins, Wiggins invents a different role for herself, slightly off from her real one. In this life she has written a novel about Edward S. Curtis and is looking to get it made into a movie. She does more than that, though. Inside the real novel (the one I read) she includes the story of Curtis, intertwined with her own story of selling the story and investigating her own life.

The book is remarkable in how it blends truth and fiction, even to the point of including actual photographs, both those by Curtis and those glimpsing Wiggins' own family. It is beautifully written and it does what a great novel can: it helps us see life differently, even offers for some, perhaps, an epiphany.

This is why I read. And why in particular I read what is called "literature" as well as what is called "mass market". fiction, and why I read nonfiction. Books can change you. They can enlarge your life even as you sit in your own comfortable chair in your own little house. They can make you more aware of others and of the outside and indeed the inside of yourself. It is through books that I have developed a sense of the world and of others, both fiction and nonfiction.

I am near the end of the second year that I have challenged myself, as part of a group blog, to read several books from various "notable books" lists. This year I challenged myself to read twenty books from various notable books lists of 2007. It was a fool's errand in a sense, in that at this point I am racing to make sure I meet my goal and I am looking for books I can read quickly. I plan to cut my goal in half for the next year so that I can savor each book I read from the 2008 lists and not worry about beating the clock. A smaller goal also allows me time to read more from 2007 and 2006 and wherever I find them. My shelf of to-be-read books is full, overflowing. I need some time to tackle it.

The group challenge blog was started by somebody else in love with reading and has attracted a fair number of participants as well as a larger number of readers, it appears. It's worth having a look and maybe signing on yourself...

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georgewesly
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