Raison d'etre, But in Books
Music, reading and movies give us a feeling of euphoria, one that we look for when we escape the clutches of real society, real life, and real responsibilities. When in trouble, read about someone who’s in trouble as well. When stressed, read about someone who’s trying to save the world. We live on connections. Human beings need to socialise, and they need someone to sympathise with. And having someone beside you, who’s going through somewhat the same thing, can be a source of comfort unlike anything else.
Today, I am opening my secret treasure trove of words that emit serendipity and the smell of old books on a rainy afternoon, and show you my top go-to choices for silencing the static that arrives with tension and anxiety.
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.
Expelled from school, Holden Caulfield decides to take a trip to New York to begin his new life as a juvenile entrepreneur with nothing entrepreneurial about him. Concerned teachers, ducks at Central Park and past crushes and his younger sister always at the front of his mind, Caulfield goes on a journey, both physical and spiritual.
There is a normalcy about the narration in Catcher in the Rye, a kind of calm that leeches onto our very being. Caulfield is a normal guy, he’s an ordinary man going through an existential crisis, and he goes about solving it in the most chaotic way possible, much like ourselves. The relationship he has with his sister Pheobe, the reminiscing and the strolling through New York at midnight, Holden lives and weeps about it, but in the middle of it all, he also finds happiness. And isn’t that one of the central themes of the story of our lives?
Walking through the city at 2 in the morning and seeing your breath fog in front of you. Feeling the solitude, the quiet of barely-mornings. Some books were written to be coping mechanisms, and Holden and Pheobe and all their adventures lead us through a breathing exercise, they look us in the eyes and tell us it’s okay. It will be okay.
Salinger provides us with lazy mornings, a free day and a look at what being untethered feels like.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
When having an anxiety attack, one of the ways to bring it down is the 5 things system. Look around and tell me 5 things you see. 5 things you smell. 5 things you hear, and 5 things you feel. Having an idea of your surroundings helps you calm down, it centres you and gives you a floor to stand on. And the Goldfinch? It is 771 pages of detailed observation and empathy.
Theo Decker sees the world move without him. He observes it all in slow motion, takes the time to feel the canvas and look at the wood, while everyone else flashes by. Surviving an accident that takes his mother away from him, Theo is welcomed in by the family of a long lost classmate. Friendships rekindle, new acquaintances are made, hidden secrets and a lie that tries to bring him down at every step of his life.
Donna Tartt gives extreme detail to everything in the book. A mahogany cabinet, a pair of earrings with a single emerald, a painting lost in the debris, everything has a story. A beginning and Theo searches for his.
The Goldfinch is dusty brown, the golden hour during sunset, and the deep blue of Amsterdam streets. The movie adaptation of the Goldfinch does the book justice: it is silent overthinking paired up with Ansel Elgort, and really, is there a better pair?
Here’s the thing: it’s written like it’s a secret between you and the author. Tell no one else. Keep the story, carry it on. Beginning with muted despair, ending with acceptance.
Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
Two souls, set apart by age and distance, come together for summer vacation and discover they were two perfect halves of the same universe.
Narrated through the eyes of 17-year-old Elio, Call me By Your Name is a piece of art, its beauty equivalent to all of Van Gogh’s long lost art books, filled with nature depicted in all its billowy beauty.
Aciman writes in detail of the psychological turmoil that falls over Elio for liking Oliver, the family guest for the summer with a thesis in the works and a decade of an age difference between him and the ever-observant boy. We read through the letters written and torn apart, ideas born and killed, shy touches and sly stares and Italian apricots.
Call Me By Your Name breathes love into even the very trees. The houses, the cobbled streets and the blue blue sky speak of affection, it is a little safe haven of peace, anything is possible, and the two boys notice it. It is sunset blue, with lone streetlights at night and walking down the street with your person. André Aciman knows what it is like to be seen and heard, and reading Call Me by Your Name feels like a piece of your soul you didn’t know you needed. It gives you skin, the characters give you space to breathe. It is acknowledgement.
Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.
Spoken from the soul, this book is about friendship It’s about loneliness. It is about being acknowledged.
Charlie writes us letters. We read about his thought process, we read about his view of the world, and mostly, we read about the desperate need to fit in.
Solitude changes with each passing hour. From relief to quiet discomfort, we feel the need to be near people, to be able to tell ourselves that yes, we exist, we are worthy of attention and worthy of the little corner we have in the world.
Night rides, through vast bridges, typewriters and Walkmans, truth or dare and standing up for yourself and your friends, Perks of Being a Wallflower embodies the idea of comfort. Human affection. Friendship. Acknowledging trauma. Chbosky has the aesthetic of a clicking tock: comforting at times and terrifying at others.
We need people. We need love. These four books are merely diary entries. Journals, of people looking for someone to talk to. To hold hands with and to have someone to lean on when the going gets hard.
Here is the unifying theme in the above four books. They are all just ordinary people trying to lead ordinary lives. There is no slaying the great big dragon, there is no sacrificing yourself for the people you love, there is no Chosen One and no magic. It is human beings leading their lives, and the authors writing it down with all the beauty and glory it deserves to be seen in.
Raison d’etre means a reason to live, and my reason to live is to feel infinite. To look up and see the stars. To look next to you and see the people you love. To be surrounded by everything that gives life meaning. We have one life. Run forward screaming, hold hands with them, and jump off that cliff. Skydive. Maybe smash a plate. Do what you feel like doing, this is the one opportunity we get.
A song with Similar Vibes: Spring 1 by Vivaldi, recomposed by Max Richter
A Movie with Similar Vibes: Dead Poets Society, The Map of Tiny Perfect things
This Article is Written by Hanna