I always squirm a little when I hear someone say that, or read it in an interview, or see it in any other format. It makes me really, really uncomfortable. I finally figured out why: I don't like having books - wonderful, marvelous books - equated with escapism. I don't like the idea of reading being a way for people to avoid or neglect their lives. And the idea of enabling escapism scares me as a writer.
I don't want my readers (assuming they actually exist at some point) to escape into the words I write. I don't want them to grab up my story as a way to run away from their problems. I don't want my books to be the fantasy they turn to when a stressful situation arises. I know I'm not responsible for other people's behavior. If someone uses books as a form of escapism, I can't change that about them. I know that. But I think when writers talk about loving to escape into books we're inadvertantly condoning the idea that escapism is all right and that books are a way to accomplish that escape.
When people use food as an escape, it's perceived as a negative thing. When people use drink or drugs to escape, it's seen as a negative thing. Why is it that when people use books to escape, it's perfectly all right? Sure, it's not physically destructive. You won't end up in the hospital from an overdose or morbid obesity if books are your escape. But when people use books as an escape, it's fundamentally the same as any other form of escapism. It's just dressed in a lovely cover.
Escape is temporary. I don't want to provide my readers an escape. That probably sounds callous. I mean, what if someone has had a horrific, terrible life? Isn't it OK in that case? I don't think so, especially if a reader is dealing with some sort of trauma. I don't want to help them escape it. I want to help them conquer it. I want to help them overcome it. I don't want to give them some sort of fleeting reprieve from their troubles. I want to give them something more permanent. I want my books to foster courage and hope. I want my readers to come away from my books armed with something that goes beyond "The End." I want to give them the inner strength to face the trouble and pain in their lives, because the trouble and pain will still be there after the last page has been turned. I want to give them a quiet place - a place they can leave with a fresh perspective, an idea for how to deal with the difficulty before them, or even just a confident hope that change and goodness and beauty is possible.
I want people to take books off the shelves to enrich their lives, not escape them. I want people to use books to explore new places and perspectives, and through that exploration, to expand their own view of our world and all the complexities of it. I want people to pick up a book when they're upset or depressed, not to escape, but to be encouraged that there is good in this world and it's worth fighting for. I want people to open the cover when they're bored, not to escape the boredom, but to find something to inspire them to action.
Now maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe people don't really mean that they escape into books. Maybe they're just lazy in their diction. But if you don't actually view books as a means of escape, don't describe them that way. There are thousands of words. Find some that acurately describe what books are to you.
I read to improve not just my mind, but my character, my being. I write to the same end. I write to make beautiful minds - minds filled with whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or worthy of praise. Because beautiful minds make beautiful people and beautiful people make beautiful lives and beautiful lives make a beautiful world.
That's what I want to be a part of.
"The unreal is more powerful than the real. Because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it. Because its only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on. If you can change the way people think. The way they see themselves. The way they see the world. You can change the way people live their lives. That’s the only lasting thing you can create."
~ Chuck Palahniuk