While I love to read, I often find reading a new book challenging. Starting a new book is like getting on a rollercoaster. You want to take a ride because you’ve heard a lot of about it or it’s the new thing at your favorite amusement park, but first, you have to wait in line. When you do get up to the front, you have to get into your seat, buckle up, and wait for the attendants to make sure everybody is safe and secure before sending you on your way. When you’ve finally started moving, you start that slow ascent, sometimes the wood creaking underneath you as you hear that click, click, click up the incline. And then suddenly, you’re moving. You’re flying down the descent, you’re upside down and sideways. Some parts you like more than others–you feel like you could ride them all day– and other parts you plain just don’t like.
For me, getting started with a new book is a lot like that. I usually enjoy most books I decide to read, but it takes a little while– I have to get into the groove of the author’s writing style, I need to learn the characters, the world in which the book takes place. Sometimes it’s a little uncomfortable and sometimes I’m a little impatient. Sometimes, I’m so impatient that I end up forever trying to read a book only to find myself stuck trying to get past those first few chapters. And I don’t even think it’s the fault of the writer– it’s just my own version of ADD perhaps. That’s why I often find myself opting to start books on planes because I have nothing else to do except focus on reading. And suddenly, like taking off on that rollercoaster, I’m completely immersed in the world I’m reading about– picturing the characters live and in color in my mind’s eye, seeing what they see, feeling what they feel. And when it’s a really good book, I don’t want to come up. I want to live in that world forever, explore it until I feel like I’ve completely internalized it and have lived the story myself. When the story’s over and I finally come up, I’m almost exhausted. I feel like I’ve lived a thousand lifetimes through that story and have, of course, been changed by the experience.
This is what a good piece of fiction means to me. It touches some part of me, is somehow relevant to me, some deep experience and emotion inside of me that I feel like the author’s talking about someone like me, that I’m not completely alone and someone else has experienced the same types of things I have, had the same thoughts I have, felt the same emotions I have. Even if in a completely different way from me and my world. Even if the fiction is completely fantastical, perhaps especially when completely fantastical, I’m completely drawn in because I can escape reality for just a moment, but at the same time, experience it even more fully through the window of fiction. Good fiction provides catharsis, perspective, education, growth. It enables us to sympathize with and understand the villain, to criticize and understand the hero. It brings light to the gray areas of life, the grayed-out areas of life and to learn about ourselves as well as “the other.”
And that’s why I’m fascinated by people who don’t read fiction or who don’t read at all. Because of the rush I get from reading a great novel, because of the things I learn and the emotions I experience just from reading a story, I thirst for books with great characters and gripping storylines set in a world that completely envelopes you. And while I love movies for a lot of the same reasons, books are such a deeper experience. Everyone brings their own unique experiences, who they are, to the table and the internal reading voice and the mental images created are different for each person, each time they read a piece of fiction. The result is a much richer, much more personal, much more intimate experience that can become it’s own thrilling addiction.