A depressing proportion of my friends do not read for pleasure. They are all very intelligent, educated young men and women, and yet they take great pride in the fact that the last book they read for fun was The Hobbit, in seventh grade and eighth grade (it took two years to finish). I, on the other hand, just read six books in the past three days, not because I am the man, though I am, but because I could not help myself.
I think i’m obsessed. Thank goodness i’m an extremely quick reader, because everyone close to me knows that once I crack open a new book, I do not take kindly to being disturbed until it is finished. Inconveniences like eating, or sleeping, or going to work are avoided if possible, or suffered with ill grace. Until I can get back to reading I am distant and irritable, and that’s just for okay books. Whenever I find a great book? Forget about it. You’ll see me in six hours when i’m finished, whether my schedule is clear or no.
So why do I do it? I’m not sure. What I do know is that whenever I read a really good story, I am changed because of it. Perhaps you know the feeling I speak of. You’re basking in the solitude of your room. You’re reading a book. As the story progresses, you chuckle, your eyes tear up, you make appropriate umm and ahh sounds, and after you finish the last sentence, all you can do is put the book down, slowly, like it’s some sort of dangerous creature, rub distractedly at the knot in your stomach, and say “woah”. Your world has somehow just been rocked by a few words on paper, and you need a minute to collect yourself. To think. To absorb.
That’s a big deal. Using the abitrary symbols of written language, another human being created something, presented it to you, and let you interpret it how you will. Nothing else has that power. When you watch television, or a movie, though you might appreciate it on a different level than the people sitting next to you, you all just shared in the same experience. You saw the same things, the exact same way. Now say you read a book, and the author describes a room. It has two windows, a table, and three chairs. The chairs are red. When you read that description, your mind creates a picture, an internal visualisation that is uniquely your own. Nobody else imagines exactly the same shade of red, or how the windows cast shadows across the floor, which you decide is covered in a beautiful berber carpet. How about the smell of the room? The temperature of the air? That’s all you baby. “Show, don’t tell” is a mantra that good writers live by, but even the best writer can only give you the barest skeleton frame upon which to build. Is how you envision the world in the story similar to how the author envisioned it? Similar, maybe. Is it the same? Absolutely not.
That, I think, is why a great story is so powerful. It is unique to every person who reads it. It is your own. Because you, the reader, just created it. Sure, the author put some words together, and built an outline for you to follow, but you did all the real work. In your mind, in your soul, you brought the story to life.
A good author is just an enabler really. Me, personally? I’m going to enable the crap out of you.