I spend a lot of money on books. I enjoyed George Orwell’s essay Books V Cigarettes and I know why it’s displayed on the counter near the till at my local book store and why I saw it on the list of top ten books sold in said book shop that month. People love the image the title projects. Books VS Cigarettes, Books and Cigarettes. Sitting outside a café in Paris, drinking black coffee, smoking a Gauloises, unread Camus in breast pocket. Wow cool, books and cigarettes.
But I actually read Books V Cigarettes. Orwell argues that if books are read recreationally, the cost per hour is less than the cost of a cinema seat. Therefore, reading is one of the cheapest recreations. Although it’s a delicious pleasure to have Orwell justify my recreational expenditure, I’ve never concerned myself with money and time spent on books. I surround myself in books. I wrap myself in words and drift away to distant worlds. Post apocalyptic worlds, high fantasy worlds. Worlds built with words.
But lately I’ve begun to wonder, how much escapism is too much. I’ve found myself saying things like ‘I wish I could escape to Skyrim’. I fall asleep planning zombie apocalypse survival strategies. I wonder how I’d fare spending a winter as caretaker at The Overlook Hotel. Clearly I’m seeking an escape from my own reality. I haven’t got anything terrible to escape from, except boredom, and in fact I am very happy, as they say. But I am not comfortable being left alone with myself. I wonder, at what point do you stop, turn to face that reality, look it square in the eye and attempt to make friends or shake hands. Maybe it won’t go down that way and a fantastic showdown will occur, like pistols at dawn. Blood will spill across pages and into dreams. Tears will be shed, ancient treaties slain and scattered to the wind.
Or if we do shake hands and bury the hatchet, will my desire to be the wasteland wonderer simply evaporate like the joy of jumping in puddles we shared as children. Well I think that’s the point. The joy of jumping in puddles never really leaves a person, well, any self respecting person. And there is your answer. Escapism is a unique pleasure we have in this life. It’s available to all. For some it’s a simple daydream, for some the escape teaches us about life and for others, it’s a coping mechanism. So never feel guilty for spending time in imaginary worlds, it may help you become more present in this one.