I remember the first time I flew on a dragon. I was 13 and had just moved from the main house where I shared a room with my sister to the little studio apartment attached to our garage – the granny unit, as we call it. It had beautiful turquoise carpet and a glass door and little double-hung window looking onto the pond and the wisteria-covered arbor next to it. A huge olive tree shaded the place and gave access to the roof for those brave enough to shimmy up the smooth trunk. If I left my window open at night, I could hear the frogs I’d raised from tadpoles chatting each other up – “Hey baby, looking good wanna hang out?” My new digs also had a wall-mounted gas heater that scared the crap out of my mom, more spiders than any arachnophobia could ever be comfortable with, and a big overstuffed chair next to the window which my parent’s didn’t need anymore as they’d bought a new one for the living room. It was heaven.
I rode my dragon there. I sat, the sun streaming through that window like thin music in the cool early spring, and opened Dragonflight, Anne McCafferey’s 1st book in her Pern series. I was Lessa, a drudge in her ancestral hold, biding her time to kill the man who had slaughtered her family and stolen her life. Small, underfed and deliberately dirty to avoid unwanted attention, I sabotaged an important meal where Fax, the evil murderer and usurper, intended to insult and perhaps kill the visiting dragonrider’s from the last Weyr, on Search for potential candidates for the latest (and perhaps last) dragon clutch. I was small and smart and ready to do anything to win, and soon my plan has fruited in more ways than expected. Fax lay dead, along with my only friend, a dog-like creature with weak psychic ability, and I was astride a huge bronze dragon with the handsome yet demanding F’lar, convinced that being Candidate to the queen egg was a greater future than taking back the devastated Hold of my family from a new-born babe of my family’s and Fax’s blood, heir now that Fax lay dead. And so we flew off.
It was my first dragon flight, feeling the wind rush up and watching the ground drop away, blinking briefly into the nothingness of Between and back. I had spoken with dragons before, and outwitted them; Smaug in the dark, guarding his horde. It was also my first romance. Dark, moody F’lar and small, steely Lessa were at heads as often as not, and compromise was a word neither gave any credence to, yet working together they changed their world and each other for the better. It took work and more work, but they did it. And it was my first time as a true leader, doing what needed to be done but also working with others, negotiating and arguing and compromising for the good of all. And these are things I will never forget. So many firsts. And that was one book alone.
I read obsessively. My parents got me hooked young. I remember me with my little sister tucked into the guest bed together on a Saturday morning, our dad reading us The Hobbit. Or of hiding under my covers with a flashlight, reading Lord of the Rings, not noticing the footsteps of my parents until a voice told me to go to sleep, it was almost midnight and I had school and needed sleep. They’d always laugh a little after closing the door. But in a book I was so many people, I saw and did and thought about so many things. I crossed the prairies in a wagon and rode horses bareback, I traveled through space on a ship and talked to a living planet, I discovered government secrets, fought battles and changes into animals to prevent extraterrestrial slugs from taking over the world. I spent huge amounts of money at book fairs and used book stores and pilfered my mom’s stash of novels. I volunteered at our tiny library just to have a valid excuse to spend more time there. I’ve never regretted even one of those moments.
I’ve read about a book a week for the last 10-ish years. I’ve easily read over 500 books in that time, mostly science fiction and fantasy, but also the modern variations and “normal” fiction and pop science and non-fiction and mystery and poetry and even a romance book or two. I can never say enough about what it has done for me. I’ve learned about every subject under the sun. I’ve pondered and agonized over morality and justice and metaphysics and religion and how we define ourselves and others. Reading has forced me to grow in ways simply living my own life never could. I have more empathy, and more words to express myself. I have a deeper knowledge of myself, having tried on the lives and points-of-view of others.
If your life feels thin or shallow, if you’ve never traveled beyond your own comfort zones, if you crave adventure or love or simply something interesting to do that has the potential to better you in both definable and undefinable ways, read. You’ll live a million lives, all amazing if not always pleasant. Flowery descriptions or hard-and-fast narrative, there’s something for anyone. And if you tell me what kind of story you like, I can probably provide a recommendation. Because only finding the right book is hard.. After that, it’s as easy as riding a dragon. Believe me, I’ve done it at least a hundred times now.