A Story In Three Parts



The first time I attempted to read The Satanic Verses, I was eleven. I found the hardcover on one of my parents’ bookshelves and took it down, thinking I was in for some kind of sword and sorcery epic. I was, at the time, deep into the Dragonlance series, as well as Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books. In this case, however, I got no further than the first page before I realized there were going to be no wizards or talking horses. But the first chapter—in which Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha are falling out of a plane over the English Channel—shook me in a way no other book I’d ever read had. Since childhood, I’d had an occasional recurring dream about falling. Every few months, it would happen: there was never any sound, just a gut-twisting loss of balance that would go on and on until it felt like the skin was going to pull off my bones. It wasn’t painful, exactly, but it was terrifying. I had never fallen from a great height, so how my body knew what it felt like remained a mystery. I put the Verses away, afraid it would give me nightmares.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.

Paul Hawkens. Commencement address, University of Portland, 2009. (source)