Alternate realities might be the reason why people love books and movies. I for one love turn of the century novels, or any story happening in England generally, because I wish I could live there one day. But, have you tried to live some of those alternate realities though? I wrote a fancy version of the following many times in my mind but since my Friday is too lazy to finesse any art, let’s try out candid randomness.
Two weeks ago, we had visitors from Netherlands at work. One of them is a 59 years old man who’s even healthier than myself. All talks between us were strictly work related until the night we decided for the team to have dinner together. We were so many, and I remember how we actually had to wait for the restaurant staff to fix us all those booths in the very center of the space. We were the highlight of their night, I am sure.
During large dinners, conversations are always half conversations. Some people stay silent. Some people just try to occupy the guests with entertaining remarks or intriguing cultural questions. Of course, you wouldn’t also want to miss the menu translation, mostly funny part. At work, me and three others are famous for being good entertainers. It’s a mix of having good English and being a dexterous conversationalist. That night it so happened that I was seated between both foreigners. The first half of the night I was preoccupied with the younger guy, who happened to order a very Egyptian dish, and whom I exchanged light opinions with about Egypt, Holland and things I don’t really remember.
Frank was on my left side, and right after an Egyptian work colleague of mine told him that I write, the guy left the whole party and turned his complete focus on me. With a curious smile and excited, almost sparkling eyes, he asked me to tell him everything.
The last time I had talked about my writing with someone was then too long ago. As I narrated to him how I started reading and blogging, I felt as if I was in a therapy session. I told him how the book that first entered my heart was Jane Austen’s Emma and how I love Booker Prize winners, how I wish I could actually win that one day, and then the dramatic Anna Karenina, the philosophy of Leo Tolstoy, the power of War and Peace, the calm beauty of The God of Small Things, Nabokov even, and the fact that he was a Russian novelist, writing in English about a character that’s originally French. And then we embarked upon German literature, Goethe and romantic suicide, the eccentric Kafka, and then finally Thomas Mann and his book The Magic Mountain.
I hadn’t known about Mann before, or that book of his. Frank tells me that the events there spanned seven years. In a daring move from him, he actually decided to read The Magic Mountain in the course of seven years, and guess what. He did. He actually read that story in seven complete years.
My jaw dropped. I don’t know what’s gotten to me more; his reddening excited complexion as he was telling me this, or the fact that he actually did it. He told me people thought he was crazy. He even told me about a chapter in the book that was all about the art of folding blankets in the sanatorium (the novel’s place set). He said he had to re-read some pages along the days, so that he’d not finish early. He actually lived the novel.
Now isn’t this amazing?
By the end of that therapeutic conversation, I noticed that I was actually shaking. His words were too sincere, and he genuinely loved reading. I haven’t seen such love for literature before, not even in myself, I guess. I told him I loved writing more. And then I opened my iPhone and showed him the book on goodreads, and he told me he’ll definitely have a look at it. It was like I had been missing this, so much I didn’t realize it would feel like this.
I mean, can you actually not know what you’re really missing? Ah, aren’t we mysterious folk?
The next day was his last day in Egypt. Around evening, while we were saying goodbyes, he said: “I had already taken a peak at your book, Ibrahim”.
The Magic Mountain is now on my reading list, and I don’t know, maybe I’ll do this cool live the story thing.