BETWEEN THE LINES

Books and imaginary friends

May 2, 2012

Tags: Writing, imaginary friends

Like many of you, I read a lot – several books a week. I choose them for different reasons. Some to admire and learn from. Some because of commitments to my two book groups, including the group I lead at the Odyssey Bookshop. Some because the author is a friend, or perhaps a Facebook friend. I read advanced reading copies (ARCs) as a member of the First Edition Club selection committee at the bookstore. I love novels that tackle big political/ethical/moral dilemmas and I look for those, but sometimes a totally different kind of book will choose me and surprise me.

That’s what happened with Matthew Dicks’ Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, which I picked up from the wobbling piles of ARCs on the kitchen table at the bookstore. I met Matthew last year when we were both invited to participate in the wonderful Books on the Nightstand readers’ retreat in Manchester Center, Vermont. I picked up this ARC (the book will be published in August) because I’d met Matthew and because the title intrigued me. I admit it took me a few pages to believe in the voice of his main character – an imaginary friend named Budo – but soon I was hooked. The premise of the story is simple and clever, and the observations of a character who doesn’t really exist (or does he?) about his parallel world, and about our “real” world, are tender and thought-provoking. Dicks’ writing drew me into the universe of his novel and I lived there for a delicious couple of days.

As a bonus, throughout this novel, I thought about the imaginary friend I had as a child. Her name was Mrs. Callipygean Cannickean. For several years of my childhood, I simply had to look up and to the right, and there she would be, hovering in a corner, up by the ceiling. Matthew Dicks' novel made me wonder why I let her go. I spent some time missing good old Callipygean and wondering if it might be possible to get her back.

And then, in a eureka moment, I realized that’s exactly what characters are – our imaginary friends. When we read, they provide excellent company. When we write it's even better: they hang out with us, talk to us, and listen (sometimes) to our ideas. No wonder I love reading - and writing - fiction.