In the (sort of) introduction of The Princess Bride, William Goldman discuss the affect that S. Morgenstern’s “classic tale of true love and high adventure” had on his life, and why he just had to abridge the story for us. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Princess Bride.
Have you ever had a book change everything about your life?
I think most of you have witnessed how Harry Potter and His Dark Materials affected me, and I’m very honored to have shared that experience with so many people. It can really be a huge, life-altering thing to read something that you connect to in a visceral way, especially if that book changes how you see the world around you. I’d say that’s the case with both of those series, but I think I came at both of those properties in a way that prevented me from truly changing the way I lived my life. I’m older than the intended audience for HP and HDM, and much of what I became attached to was a reaction. I reacted to Dolores Umbridge. I reacted to incision and Lyra leaving Pan behind. I reacted to Mary’s story about marzipan, and I reacted to the death of Dumbledore. On top of that, I think the fact that I had these very emotional moments in a public setting made the experience more memorable for me.
But I don’t know that they changed my life. They certainly changed the circumstances in them; we all know Mark Reads would not exist without the success of Harry Potter. (I have an endless number of feels on this very subject, for the record.) The first book that truly changed my life was The Stranger by Albert Camus. I was lucky enough to get into AP Literature in my senior year of high school, and my teacher that year, Mr. Marshall, very clearly wanted each of us to have a transformative experience with the books that we read. I liked how he taught because he founds methods to make us engage with literature in increasingly unique ways. They were personal. They were modern. They were relevant. He got me to appreciate Crime and Punishment and Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart.
And then we were assigned a slim book I’d never heard of before. I didn’t understand the cover. I’d never seen the author’s name. (I had to hear people mispronounce it for nearly two months straight. God.) I was perplexed that something so short was going to be a feature in our class. Mr. Marshall warned us that we should keep an open mind as we started reading the book, saying that Meursault, the protagonist, was not the most likable narrator in the world. In fact, he said, this book might be deeply upsetting to a lot of people, but if we pushed through it, we’d be rewarded in the end.
That opening set of lines from the Ward translation – “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe. I don’t know. I got a telegraph from home: ‘Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.’ That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.” – struck me as both completely disturbing and entirely relatable. I found myself frightened as I continued to read this novel and appreciating the stoic detachment of the narrator. He questioned very basic elements of society that people simply take for granted. He was aware that his internal monologue was vastly different than the people around him, and he knew that all of the emotions he was supposed to feel never showed up inside of him.
In just a matter of days (I finished the book in four sittings), I suddenly found a character who accurately described the emotional and spiritual war going on inside my head.
It was terrifying. How could I relate to someone who committed murder? I could I feel these things about a human being who seemed so heartless on the surface? (He’s really not, and I’ll argue forever that anyone who says such a thing is missing the point of the book, but this is not a review of that book.) I read the book a second time. Then a third. By the time our first essay on the novel came around, I’d read it six times. I could not escape this sensation. I believed I was a devout Catholic, and this book was making me question the very foundations of my faith. Why was I trying so hard to feel anything from God when I failed every single time? Why had I spent most of my life feeling empty and purposeless when everyone around me seemed so happy?
It took a good six months for The Stranger to completely settle in, and after my horrific experience with the Catholic church, it was the ideas in that book that caused me to abandon any pursuit of religion. It was that book that validated the vacancy I felt in my heart, that told me it was okay to feel hopeless in an uncaring world because I had the power to give myself hope. It was that book that made me stop caring about assigned some sort of organized meaning to the universe. The universe was inherently absurd. The way humans set up their society was absurd. It made no sense to me, and I found comfort in the idea of carving out my own little universe that acknowledged that I could be caring in a heartless existence.
To say that The Stranger changed my life would be a serious understatement. I would not have even considered atheism as a valid way to examine the world without this book. I wouldn’t have found a way to confront the years of abuse and bullying I experienced. I wouldn’t have been able to begin the healing process. That book and the discovery of existentialism that followed was the pinnacle of me becoming an entirely new person, one who wasn’t too shy to share anything personal about themselves, one who didn’t believe there was no place for him in the world, and one who wasn’t deeply unhappy and terrified of the universe around him.
So I get why The Princess Bride is important to William Goldman. I get how a book could have changed his life, made him a reader for the first time ever, and made him realize how much he loved a good story. I understand that more than anything, and I appreciate that this is how he begins this book. I mean, it’s also nice to see how this is all framed and how it affected the way it was translated to film. But for me, the love of a good story is too powerful to ignore. Books can change our lives, and I know I’m living proof of that.
Mark Links Stuff
- My eBook adaptations of reviews I’ve posted are on sale at MarkDoesStuff.com. Harry Potter, Twilight, and Firefly books are priced from $2.99 to $3.99 a piece, and are available in ePub (iBook, iPod, iPad, Nook), Kindle, and PDF files.
- I now have a Lulu storefront, where you can purchase physical copies of all of my previously released books, including a full Mark Reads Twilight book that includes all four sets of Twilight reviews.
- I am going on tour in April and May across the western half of North America! Please check this post for tour dates and to see which cities I still need help finding venues in. You can RSVP for any date by clicking on the city name and using the Facebook page for it, or you can just leave a comment! If you have access to a venue, know of a good book store or coffee shop that hosts events, or would be willing to host an event at your house or work (I DON’T CARE WHERE, I WILL SHOW UP), please comment on that post to let me know. I can also be reached at markreadsandwatches [at] gmail [dot] com.
- I am presenting for three days at Ascendio 2012! Come hang out and have the best weekend ever in July!
- Liveblogs for Game of Thrones season 2 start on April 1st. For the time being, there will be no proper reviews, just liveblogs.
- Since Legend of Korra has now been released, I’ll review the first two episodes over the course of the next week or two; once the show starts back up again, we’ll do weekly liveblogs and I’ll have reviews of it up on Sunday.
- Mark Watches The Lord of the Rings films starts on March 31st. Each consecutive Saturday, I’ll watch the three LOTR films in order and host a liveblog; I’ll post a loose review of them on Sunday morning!