The term for people who travel via the written page: armchair travelers.
The word for people reading because they have no choice: students.
A correct synonym for reading: escape.
Reading is many things to many people. One of my favorite reading experiences this summer was a book I never expected to find: The Stephen Hawking Death Row Fan Club by R.C. Goodwin. This collection of stories, written by a relatively new author who has “worked in private practice, jails and prisons, a facility for the criminally insane, and the counseling center at a large university,”convinced me of an authenticity that only someone who has been in close proximity to such people can provide.
Each story reveals a different side of the human soul, one that characters have been unaware of until circumstances change. The title piece of the collection has a powerful hook, starting out by detailing the intelligence quotient (I.Q.) rank of several inmates on death row. The psychiatrist who has to talk to each inmate hits a wall of depression before meeting these men, for what on earth is a shrink supposed to do for a condemned man? Make him fit for human society?
The psychiatrist is surprised when one of the condemned prisoners asks for Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. The prisoner in question reads it and discusses the very difficult subject matter with clarity and precision, making the reader wonder what that inmate might have become if he had experienced a different childhood. (That question is the premise of another story titled “Blank Slate,” in which a head injury changes the character of a violent criminal.) The Stephen Hawking Death Row Fan Club alludes to the fact that more than one prisoner reads this difficult book and is affected by it.
All the stories are excellent. I was personally struck by “One on One” in which a rapist and his victim meet, more than once. I was not even aware that such a program existed or that a convict or his victim would wish to partake. The story unfolds in unexpected fashion. Like all the stories, it held me in its grip. I highly recommend this compelling collection to all lovers of unexpectedly intelligent and interesting story telling.