Birkerts speaks for brigades of like-minded readers when he says, "In this condition, when all is clear and right…I feel a connectedness that cannot be duplicated." The reading state, he says, brings an internal limberness, a sense of being "in accord with time," as if the whole of life were somehow, for as long as one dwells in "the state," available "as an object of contemplation."

This is, to be sure, pure escape. But it's escape of the healthiest, most productive kind. Through fiction's lens readers view their lives from a new and unique perspective. With stories, Birkerts claims that he repositions his life along "the coordinate axes of urgency and purpose." These two qualities, he says, inform the actions of fictional characters. And by doing so they push, nudge, and prod readers for as long as they're "bathed in the energies of the book."

Readers often find that the details of a story, even a good one, soon fade. But, like William Hazlitt, the 17th century critic, they remember  "…the place where I sat to read the volume, the day when I got it, the feeling of the air, the fields, the sky—those places, those times, those persons, and those feelings."

It is Sven Birkerts says, as if the book were a ladder, to be climbed and then discarded after it has served its purpose. Which is, in part, to provide a lofty and intricate pleasure. 

Richard Doster is the editor of byFaith magazine. He's also the author of two novels, Safe at Home (2008) and Crossing the Lines (2009), both published by David C. Cook Publishers.

**This article first published on May 27, 2010.