We read books to widen and to deepen our own repertoire, because the performances of others (including fictive others) shed light on our own possibilities and limits. About those possibilities and limits — the self taking form, the figure achieving shape, the shape finally dissolving — we are otherwise, as I’ve said, strangely in the dark, since our education in school seems oddly outward-directed and generic in nature, anonymous even, unattuned to the outgoing private voyage we are making every minute. (The dazed look of students around the globe confirms this: whatever is happening in the classroom, whatever the subject, is distinctly not-me.) In the dark also because of natural incarceration, we are all landlocked creatures, stuck in particular minds and bodies, marooned in our specific time and place; and no matter how much information may come our way by dint of the electronic revolution that puts the world seemingly at our fingertips, only a click away, the austere fact of life is that we live and die within our own shell, doomed to our own perceptual equipment. Our eye can gauge much, but it cannot take the measure of “I.”
Literature is the great bridge that enables us to exit our precincts, that enables other places and other lives to come to us, asking us to “try it on,” “try it out.” Facts, statistics, theorems, and discursive argument address only our reasoning powers. Art operates differently; it is a beckoning mirror. It is, in the poet Baudelaire’s terms, an invitation au voyage. Put differently, literature grows us, and I am especially drawn to the unfurling organic processes in play here: not just the evolution of “characters” but our own move through time and — no less central — our move into the mirror, into the precious virtuality of art. . . . Only the work of art treats us to that richer, pulsating, lived experience of what it might feel like to be there, to have been there, whether coming or going or both.
Art is our second life.
— Arnold Weinstein, Morning, Noon, and Night: Finding the Meaning of Life’s Stages Through Books, p. 7-8