Given what’s going on in the world, it can feel like a sin to curl up with a good book or a favorite song. The Gulf Coast lies in ruins, the war in Iraq is grinding on, and more people are sinking into poverty. Reading, like listening to a favorite CD, can feel like an extravagance—or worse, a way to avoid connecting to those in crisis, an act of separation from the suffering of others.
But we know that books and music can help us cope with the unpredictables of life, from the small irritations of traffic jams to the large-scale catastrophes of wind and water. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince may be the perfect antidote for a stressed-out 12-year-old living in an evacuee shelter—and her parents (assuming they can get a copy). There’s nothing wrong with hanging out for a time in the alternate worlds we find in stories. Indeed, it is often essential, a way to shore up the mind and soul while the outside world is raging.
Stories can save us. Think of the Bible, after all. Despite its confused characters and impractical plot, its central message is one of redemption. We bring our lives to this Word and in turn are given new life. In seeking to understand, we open ourselves to mystery; the result, wrote C.S. Lewis in An Experiment in Criticism, is “an enlargement of our being.” Through reading we learn “to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts....We demand windows.” The same could be said for music.