On Reading at Disney World

It’s been forty minutes since we started waiting. The line snakes into yet another room, weaving around sets of turnstiles packed with a diverse array of people – just-married couples wearing mouse ears with a veil and top hat, elderly folks enjoying their Florida retirement, families with two or three children, all of them screaming for another ice cream bar or playing hand-clapping games with nonsense words. Meanwhile, tinny muzak versions of songs from The Little Mermaid and Aladdin play overhead, punctuating the chaos. For an introvert like me, this might sound unbearable, and under normal circumstances, it might be, but I’m consumed with something else altogether, too much so to notice anything.

“’Scuze me? Ma’am…ma’am?” A voice floats in front of me, then grows louder. “Ma’am. You. With the book. Could you step forward please?”

It takes me a minute to realize that she’s talking to me, and that somewhere in the last chapter, we reached the front of the line.

I’ve been going to Disney World since I was six, excepting three years during junior high when I decided, by decree of new influences in my life (cliques, boys, newfound independence) that I was too cool for it. This was an admittedly stupid decision, and it took me until ninth grade to realize the ill of my ways. Today, my mother and I (and sometimes my dad) have visited Disney twenty-five times. This might seem excessive, even decadent, and I’ve had a lot of people judge me negatively for it. Frankly, I don’t really care. Everyone deserves a weird family tradition, and this one is mine. Last week, Creativity Matters was on hiatus because I made visit number twenty-five.

There are a number of things that keep driving me back to Walt Disney World – the nostalgia for a simpler time, the constant reinvention of the parks through the process of “Imagineering,” the way it is set apart from the surrounding area like its own little world, and – let me be totally transparent here – the food (I’m dead serious. The sushi at the California Grill is to die for). However, the greatest aspect of Disney for me is the spirit of creativity that surrounds the place. After all, Walt Disney’s every move was the product of creativity, from classic characters like Oswald the Rabbit, Mickey Mouse, and Snow White to inventions such as the multiplane animation camera to the concept of a theme park itself. I can honestly say that without Disney World, I would not be the writer I am today. Going there recharges my creative batteries. It causes me to see my projects, and indeed, my life as a whole, in a different light.

One of my favorite activities at the parks, though, is not a creation of Walt Disney or the Imagineers. It’s not a ride or a restaurant. It’s the creativity that comes from reading books there. When I was younger, we used to go for as long as a week, and half my carry-on bag would be taken up by books (I had to be ready in case I finished one). Now, I only bring one or two, but the pastime remains the same – letting the wait time pass while I delve into the story. Like Belle, the Disney patron saint of nerdy girls everywhere, I really am a funny girl.

There is something about being in an environment that embodies creativity while simultaneously being lost in a book. It’s a very meta experience, living in imaginative two worlds at once. Every time I reach the front of the line and get to ride the ride, it’s thrilling, both because of the ride itself and the knowledge that I get to find out what happened next when we head on to the next attraction and have to wait again. I turn one of the most dreaded aspects of a Disney vacation into one of my favorite things.

I can even remember particular books I read at Disney, even what years I read them and what ride I was waiting for as I did so. For instance, during high school, I absolutely devoured the Sharyn McCrumb Ballad Novels, a series about a small town in Appalachian and its idiosyncratic residents. I read the entire series in nearly a week and clearly recall reading If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O, the first book, under the lights of the queue for the Winnie the Pooh ride at night, as well as being completely absorbed in The Rosewood Casket amid the 1930’s setting of The Tower of Terror. Reading at Disney for me is what reading on the beach is to others, but far more intense, as I become enveloped in creativity and ultimately bring the energy of that experience to my own writing.

One of my favorite verses comes from 1 Corinthians 10:31 – “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Because of the creativity that stems from my Disney excursions, I ultimately believe that these trips enable me to bring greater glory to the Lord. While I certainly don’t agree with many things the company has advocated or promoted over the years, there is plenty to celebrate in how Disney promotes creative thinking and storytelling. It is the stories within stories that constantly draw me back and how they influence my own ability to create.

Maybe these days people would rather play on their phones or watch videos while waiting in line, and maybe they do think I’m weird. But Belle didn’t care, and these trips are a gift given to me by God as a means of using my gifts. Both of those are good enough for me.

As an appendix, here is an exhaustive, but incomplete list of every book I have read at Disney World since 2000:

All the Sharyn McCrumb ballad novels At least three Patricia Cornwell books The Shipping News, Annie Proulx The End of the Point, Elizabeth Graver Cat's Eye, Margaret Atwood Mockingbird, Charles Shields The Help, Kathryn Stockett The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte An American Affair, Mark Brazaitis The Rapture of Canaan, Sheri Reynolds Wintering, Kate Moses Imaginary Girls, Nova Ren Suma Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty Gilead, Marilyn Robinson The List, Siobhan Vivian The Hundred Year House, Rebecca Makai Where Things Come Back, John Corey Whaley Inferno, Dante Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher Looking for Alaska, John Green Halo: Fall of Reach, Eric Nylund The Falls, Joyce Carol Oates Atonement, Ian McEwan July, July, Tim O'Brien Them, Joyce Carol Oates The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver Tree of Smoke, Denis Johnson Goldengrove, Francine Prose Stargirl, Jerry Spinelli The Language of Goodbye, Maribeth Fischer Hummingbird House, Patricia Henley The Scarlet Thread, Francine Rivers True Grit, Charles Portis Shelter, Jayne Anne Philips Lark and Termite, Jayne Anne Philips The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath Wise Blood, Flannery O'Connor (because you can never read it too many times) On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan

And the newest additions:

You Are One of Them, Elliott Holt

The Church of Dead Girls, Stephen Dobbins

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