Critics have said that the best fiction is that which is so well written, readers feel they are actually there in the scenes observing the action and hearing the dialogue. We read books, I believe, when we need to read them even though our choices may be subconscious. This need probably includes escapist fiction, though I see that more as an emergency pain killer or probiotic than a self-improvement journey.
A variety of book genres resonate with me. When there are lessons, large and small, and vicarious experiences, large and small, within them, then the process of reading becomes a positive journey. There may or may not be spiritual implications even though the story is providing something we need. We don’t always consciously know what we need; yet, the reading provides it. In fact, since I operate out of intuition and chaos, I tend to think that books meet our needs when we simply read them to enjoy them rather than when we read them thinking they’ll meet specific needs in our lives.
Apparently, those needs are best met when we allow ourselves to be swept away by the story, to read it without distractions and to visualize the scenes as they happen rather than intellectually reading the words the way we might if we were studying a book for a college course. When I read, I pretend that I am right there in the middle of the action. After reading a few pages, it’s no longer pretence because the action really seems to be wherever I am.
In spite of several cataract surgeries, my eyes tire more quickly these days than they did years ago. So, I’m likely to shut them for a few minutes to give them a rest. When I do this, I continue to see an unfolding scene. This is somewhat disconcerting because it’s not the scene the author wrote. It’s as though the characters continue doing their own thing while my eyes are closed with dialogue and action seem just as real as that in the book. When I open my eyes, I find that I’ve somehow wandered into an alternate future for the characters that began the minute I closed my eyes. This forces me to backtrack several pages to get back into the story the author intended.
I have no idea whether or not this happens to other readers. Perhaps it’s an anomaly. Perhaps it’s my level of concentration and/or my writer’s intuition about routes the story could take next at any given moment. In general, I function better when I’m reading my favorite kinds of stories. They’re like powerful energy drinks. Reading helps my writing, too even though I never read anything similar to what I’m writing at the moment because I don’t want to be influenced by it, worse yet, borrow it without knowing I’m borrowing it.
I don’t think it helps to pick up a novel and think, “Okay, I’m about to go on a journey.” That would be like taking a placebo, knowing that it’s a placebo. The journeys we take by reading books seem more effective when we don’t concern ourselves with the journeys and just let whatever’s going to happen to happen. After we finish a book, we might feel empowered or inspired or more confident in ourselves or ready to tackle difficult tasks. Personally, I prefer not to analyze this: I’d rather just allow it without trying to pin science and technology logic to the process.
How about you? When you read the kinds of novels you like best, do you feel better off while reading them? Do you feel a lack in your life when you don’t have anything new to read? When you finish a book, does it feel like you’ve just returned home from a vacation trip?
I can easily answer “yes” to all those questions, but I wonder where other people experience books in similar ways.