I am sure that, at one point in our lives, we have all had nights where we are unable to sleep. Maybe you were cramming in study time for a test scheduled for the first block in the morning, or perhaps you have got sucked in and locked into the great but deadly world of YouTube or Netflix, or perhaps your finger just kept scrolling through Facebook, Instagram. And then there are those mysterious times when for no reason at all you simply can not sleep. The night of Friday the 24th of April into Saturday the 25th of April this was what happened to me. I lay on the couch (as my room is cold and the couch is right by the fire), not even really thinking of anything in particular. Just listening to the loud rattling of the pellet stove and the tinkle of pellet after pellet dropping into the firebox. Came one o'clock, then two then three then three thirty. My mind was not tired but at the same time it was not rushing, it was just still and awake, silent as an iceberg. It was at around 3:45 that I came to terms with the fact that perhaps this was not going to be a night of sleep. What a shame as I was looking forward to dreaming! So what to do now? The most common thing would be to pick up a phone or laptop and stare at it for the next 5 or more hours. But I wasn't in the mood to fry my brain as well as dry out my eyes. So I picked up Swallows and Amazons and started reading. I read and read and read and read until I got up to turn off the light because the sun had risen. Then I read some more. I don't think I have ever just sat and read for that long at least not since I was in middle school. There was always something that seemed more pressing to do.
A long digression with musings on the art of reading and the nature of a book
I had started reading Swallows and Amazons in digital copy a week or two before that sleepless night. That night was the first when I had a copy of the actual book in my hands because it had arrived in the mail that day. Reflecting back oh so long ago to the time I was reading the book on a laptop compared to now I would say that there’s a big difference between reading on a laptop, or rather any screen, and reading a physical paper book. It made me stop and think what actually is a book? Once I would have said it was a story told in a particular way, but if it was only a story there would be no difference between a book-book and a digitized book. But there is definitely a difference, one being that a laptop is a distraction. It is so easy to click open another tab and start to multi-task. Possibly you look up something that might have started by relating back to the book but say an hour from that point you have dug yourself into a winding rabbit hole, or perhaps you have quickly switched tabs to change what background music you are listening to but oh wait...what’s that on the right bar of the screen “ Puppy saves an elephants life in the Arctic”-- WOW that’s CRAZY! We must have a quick peek...and that is the starting point to completely forgetting you were reading a book until some hours later your parents ask you how the reading is going... Not only that but there is something that is just plain wrong about reading a book that was written before the invention of the computer. It takes away the opportunity to get lost in the book. To forget about your world and focus solely on the world that the author is creating for you. A great mental image I have when I think about the action of reading a book is a dark room with you, the reader, standing in the middle with a book and as you read each page, the page is torn out and it glows and starts building a world around you. A world of crumpled paper trees, of pages stacked into mountains, and streams of crinkled paper, origami animals might appear depending on the book the reader is reading. Pages fly up and disappear whenever you skip a page and then float back down like dry leaves when you go back and reread pages. Maybe this imagery comes from watching movies like The Wizard of Oz, or Alice in Wonderland or Beauty and the Beast, not to forget Harry Potter. I had considered changing the word “watching” to “reading” but then I decided against it because I have always enjoyed watching movies and that’s not something I am ashamed of. When watching movies I get so lost in the plot, the characters, the setting. Reading, on the other hand, as much as I do enjoy a good book, I sometimes find it hard to get into and make it to a place where I want to keep reading because I can and not because I was told to. I think this might be due to the fact that reading does take more focus because, well, first try reading a book and sending a text at the same time-- it is not an easy job at all. Not only that but you can watch movies even if you hate them, for example think of a typical American sitcom or reality TV show, you sit through a 20-minute episode groaning and grumbling all the way through it. The next morning you tell your friend that you hate it and the acting is horrible, the script is horrible, it makes inappropriate and and sexist or racist jokes and overall it’s just an awful show. Yet you fail to mention that your review was after making it through every season and you are currently waiting for the season finale. People have the ability to sit through a bad movie but a bad book generally goes right back on the shelf and maybe if it’s lucky it will get a second chance somewhere down the line.
Back to the book itself
In the odd hours somewhere between 5 and 7 I started thinking about a common theme in books where kids, specifically boys, left on an Island by themselves turn all sorts of crazy and fight for the throne and even go as far as committing a murder within the group. Well, now, thinking about it the only book that extreme that comes to mind is Lord of the Flies. I guess what I am trying to say is that in books based around kids’ adventure into the unknown there always seems to be danger, even in Peter Pan. A big difference between those two books is that in Peter Pan the danger comes from outside - the pirates - whereas in Lord of the Flies it comes from inside the characters: this internal wanting to survive and to have power comes off as plain evil. Swallows and Amazons breaks with this as there is no sense of real danger in the story. Sure, the kids think the old man who has a parrot and lives in a houseboat is a pirate. But readers know that this is just how kids think, and there is in fact no real danger.
This book made me think a lot about how society has changed, both from the past and age-wise. If I was to ask two friends to go with me alone to a small island with no phone, no camera, no airbnb, just tents, no fridge, no talk of gossip, what would happen? At the end of the day we wouldn't go because kids don’t have the same spirit of adventure and also not everyone’s parents would agree to it even if we are, say, 17 years old and if we were 10-14 years old like in the book we would probably have to have a parent along with us because “the world is a dangerous place.” But hasn’t the world always been a dangerous place? Probably the safest place is a small island in the English countryside. But it would seem that these days the only time people get “off the grid” is for a travel blog with 5 thousand plus subscribers or a Challenge TV about surviving in nature with no wifi and no flush toilet for two days or maybe even a week...did I mention it has a cash prize? There is something so elemental about kids wanting to find adventure. As we grow up children's books about finding fairies in the back garden or travelling to a new magic world, books that you wish that you could be in and live the life of, have now changed to stories that you can only you hope remain as stories and nothing more: stories about teens throwing parties in the woods and coming across a cabin and going into the basement and someone inevitably ends up dead.