The Desire to Escape into Reading, by Paisley James

The Desire to Escape into Reading, by Paisley James

Recently I had the pleasure of reading a great book called Anticipating Education by Dr. Deborah Britzman. The book is a collection of some of her lectures and/or talks on using psychoanalysis to reflect on pedagogy. In the book, there is a fascinating chapter about reading. Britzman talks about her early memories of reading, her struggles, her process of becoming an avid reader and how reading influenced her personal and professional life. In describing reading, Britzman writes,

“I would have to say that reading is not only an interpretive act. It is also one of imagination and how the mind functions that involves attention, reception, hallucination, bodily action, refinding and memory. Reading forms associative pathways between the inner and outer world. There is something before interpretation and it has to do with transference, and susceptibility to our projections of life’s impressions, to the act of becoming absorbed and lost in the other’s words, and to the desire to escape into reading.”


Britzman’s description of reading made me reflect on my own reading and I realized that reading for me has gone through many different phases throughout the course of my life. As a child, reading for me was certainly what Britzman describes as “becoming absorbed and lost in the other’s words” and “the desire to escape into reading.” Reading was without a doubt my most loved activity. I remember reading every chance I got. I read everywhere and anywhere possible. And I read anything I could get my hands on. I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in the stories and imagining the events, places and characters.

One of my vivid memories of reading as a young girl was reading Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind when I was nine years old. Now, those of you who have read the book  know that it is quite a thick book. I was mesmerized by the story and the imagery it created in my mind as I was reading it. As a nine year-old girl, I knew next to nothing about the history and the context of the story. But I could imagine Scarlett O’Hara (the female protagonist). I felt her love, her pain and the challenges she faced. I admired her for her courage and got angry with her when she did something that was, in my opinion, utterly selfish. I re-read Gone with the Wind again many years later as a young woman. This time, however, I was more fascinated with other characters, especially Mr. Butler (The male protagonist), and I was interested in the historical aspects and the social and racial class systems shown in the story. So, although the story was the same, because I had changed/grown as a reader, I saw/appreciated different aspects of it.


I also remember reading books that where not age-appropriate, although at the time I did not quite understand. I remember I once found the novel A Woman of Thirty by Balzak in my parents’ library. I was 14 years old at the time. I began reading the book, but as soon as my mom saw the book in my hands, she took it away and said, “This is a book about a 30 year-old woman, You are a 14 year-old girl. It’s too early for you to read it.” I did not understand what she was talking about at the time. Years later, when I read the book, I laughed remembering my mom’s words. I guess she had a point.


I was eleven when I was introduced to Pride and Prejudice, and I don’t think it is necessary for me to say that I immediately fell in love with Austen’s novels. It has been an enduring love and I have re-read her novels many many times throughout the years, every time finding new sources of pleasure in her stories and characters.


Then came the phase when I read to satisfy my curiosity and thirst for mystery. I devoured every Agatha Christie book I could get my hands on. I then moved on to Arthur Conan Doyles’ Sherlock Holmes series. I remember, very vividly, how I used to read so carefully, trying to read between the lines to see if I could solve the mystery before I reached the end.

Around 10 years ago, I came across a mystery novel by Georgette Heyer, and I immediately fell in love with her style of writing. Soon, I realized that this brilliant writer also wrote many amazing romance novels. She is described as the next best thing to Jane Austen, and I whole-heartedly agree with that description. I am confident that Jane Austen herself would have enjoyed reading Heyer’s books and would have approved of her character developments, her use of proper language, and her amazing sense of humour.


They say you are what you read. We, each of us, are influenced by what we read. But I also believe that we influence the quality of our reading. In other words, we enjoy what we read, or what we imagine as we read, because of who we are and our past experiences. As Britzman so eloquently describes,”what reading teaches is that nothing is what it seems to be, that reality, too, must pass through my subjective world and that within the act of interpreting there is an allowance for our earliest mental paradox, namely, that we are always reading for what cannot be seen but can still be imagined.”

What about you? Do you ever reflect on your reading experiences? How have your reading habits and/or preferences changed? Do you agree with Britzman that when we read, what we see is more than mere interpretation of the words, rather it is a transference of our subjective world?

Sharing is Caring!
Follow by Email
0 0 votes
SUBSCRIBE (optional)
Email alert of:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
June 23, 2021 4:44 PM

I find it interesting how I often go back to similar works I enjoyed as a child. I find it both nostalgic and comforting.

Riana Everly
June 10, 2021 12:31 PM

I was also one of those kids who wished silent reading time at school would last all day. In my teens I read a ton of fantasy and science fiction, and have always loved mysteries. When I was little I read the Secret Seven and Famous Five mysteries, and then Nancy Drew, and then moved on to Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh. My reading these days is mostly a blend of historical romance (heavily weighted towards JAFF, of course), police procedurals, and cozy mysteries.
And I do love rereading Austen every so often. It’s like having tea with an old friend. I’ll reread whatever novel I’m writing about, and just revel in her absolutely masterful use of word and wit.

Paisley James
Paisley James
June 14, 2021 3:54 PM
Reply to  Riana Everly

100% agree with you. Re-reading Austen is like sitting with an old friend and laughing at inside jokes.

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
June 10, 2021 11:28 AM

My earliest memories are of my mother reading a book and she would read to me… I loved it. Years later she would laugh and say that she memorized my favorite book because I had her read it to me so many times. In fact she could still quote passages. She, her sister, and my grandmother would check out a book at the library and my aunt would read it first. She could devour a book in one sitting. Then mother would read it and pass it to my grandmother. They would return the book in a matter of days. The library always gave them first shot at a new release because they knew Mom would return it quickly. Mother loved to go to used bookstores and find those older books that she loved. She kept a little notebook in her purse with her wish-list. Dad was happy to build shelving to accommodate her passion. Goodness, when she passed no one had room for all those books and Dad sold the lot to a guy opening a used book store. It broke my heart but I couldn’t keep them. No telling what was in that collection. At the school where I worked, we tried to encourage reading during down time or when the students finished work. Hopefully, we encouraged readers from those exercises. Thanks for this delightful post. Blessings on all your hard work.

Paisley James
Paisley James
June 14, 2021 3:52 PM
Reply to  J. W. Garrett

What sweet memories you have! Thank you for sharing.

Linda A.
Linda A.
June 9, 2021 2:24 PM

I’ve been collecting and reading books since first grade (and before). Reading is my “reward” during down time, and I have to read at least 5 minutes at bedtime, no matter what time it is, or I can’t sleep. Of course, it ends up being longer than five minutes. 😉 My choice of reading material has definitely changed as I’ve gotten older, but I still go back to some of my favorites every now and then when the “mood” of a story fits with my current situation.

Paisley James
June 9, 2021 10:13 PM
Reply to  Linda A.

I know what you mean. I sometimes walk into my library and just look around to see which book speaks to me. I love re-reading old favourites. It is like sitting with an old friend and reflecting on old memories.

Gianna Thomas
June 9, 2021 12:41 PM

I also have been an avid reader since an early age. It was fairy tales to begin with, then books about horses (Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series among others, then Science Fiction (Heinlein, Asimov, etc), then Agatha Christi (just like you :)) although the Science Fiction continued on through all the Star Trek books and their offshoots with Josephine Tey mixed in as well. Since I have a tendency to kind of stick with one genre, I may read just one type of book for a couple of decades or more. Then I found the Pride and Prejudice variations. I struck gold. Since 2012 that genre and a smattering of clean Regency romance have held my thrall as far as fiction goes, and I’ve never looked back. The variations also give me more ideas of stories to write, and I now have about fifty plots and premises for P&P variations. At least I’ll never run out of ideas as an author. I would imagine that you have gained the same benefit as well. Thank you, Paisley, for an interesting and informative post. 🙂

Paisley James
June 9, 2021 10:15 PM
Reply to  Gianna Thomas

Thank you, Gianna. Like you, I tend to stick to a genre for a good length of time, until something catches my fancy.

June 9, 2021 11:03 AM

Question: I keep hearing Georgette Heyer is great. I’d like to give her a try. But I don’t know where to start, and I’d like to begin with a few of her better books, to see if I’ll enjoy her. What are your three favorites, that you’d recommend? If I were to give this same advice for Austen, I’d say read Pride & Prejudice first (obviously) then Emma, than Persuasion. Those are my favorites, to me Jane’s best. How would you tell a beginner to approach Georgette?

Riana Everly
June 10, 2021 12:28 PM
Reply to  Charlie

I’m the oddball here. I often find Heyer’s novels somehow… not disappointing, but not everything I hope they’ll be. But most people just adore them, so obviously I’m the problem here and not her!

Paisley James
Paisley James
June 14, 2021 3:56 PM
Reply to  Riana Everly

I gave a couple of my favourite Heyer novels to one of best friends to read (and she is very well read ) but she also was not as impressed as I was. She was a little turned off by the long descriptions of characters, clothing, etc. But I personally adore her writing and find her humour very special.

Paisley James
June 9, 2021 10:11 PM
Reply to  Charlie

Wow… where to begin? I have so many favourites. I think my top five (not in any particular order) are: Arabella, The Nonesuch, Regency Buck, Frederica, and The Quiet Gentleman. Honestly, there are so many other ones too. Once you begin, you will want to read all of them. I have collected 30 of her novels already. Enjoy!

Sue Barr
June 9, 2021 10:58 AM

I believe most of us who are writers are avid readers. I know I am. I have been reading since I was three and had read everything in our local library by the age of nine. (small town, small library) My father once told me to marry a man who could keep me in books. Thankfully, I did. 🙂

I enjoyed what you said about Gone With The Wind. This book is in my top ten favorites and although I loved the movie, the book was just… ugh, filled with so much detail that was never captured on the silver screen – and the movie was four hours long!!! I am forever telling my grandchildren that if they watch a movie made from the premise of a book, then they absolutely MUST read the book because it always, always, always, has so much more.

Paisley James
June 9, 2021 10:18 PM
Reply to  Sue Barr

100% agree with you. Movies, no matter how well they’re made, can never compete with the book itself. There is so much power in the written work.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
June 9, 2021 8:49 AM

I was and am like you I read just about anything I could get my hands on! I also love Gone With the Wind! I have not read A woman of Thirty. Reading is definitely my escape and my comfort sometimes if I’m having a rough time. I love being in someone else’s world for a while. Pure magic!

Paisley James
June 9, 2021 8:53 AM
Reply to  cindie snyder

100% agree with you. Nothing gives me the same comfort as a really good story. And when I go to a bookstore, I still feel like a kid in a candy shop.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x