Every once in a while I pick up and start reading a novel and it’s like falling into the water and being able to breathe under the surface so that you become the water and yet stay yourself. This reaction is more complex than a novel hitting all your literary kinks or pleasing you on any number of levels by having the writing and the plot and the characters and the world all work for you. It is more like a species of attraction.
But don’t take my word for it. I got to thinking about this because of a conversation I had on Twitter with Lora Maroney [@Lorata should you wish to follow her on Twitter]. An excerpt:
LM: Working out difference b/t fiction kink & fiction boner. I think it’s whether I’d read something bad just bc it has that element in it.
LM: because I was about to use the terms interchangeably but they really aren’t.
Me: No, they really aren’t.
LM: Also do I expect people to share the love or judge me when I tell them I like something, that’s part of it too
LM: it’s subjective & that’s why it’s great. Also I’m less likely to be offended if someone doesn’t share a fiction boner
LM: it’s like ME ME ME and something I want to roll around in. It’s not like HOW CAN YOU HATE STAR WARS ARE YOU MAD etc
Me: Yeah, a fiction boner is like a reaction you can’t predict or control, one that is very strong. It just is.
LM: Yes, and while I can talk intelligently about the why of my narrative kinks, with fiction boners it’s like AHHH MY FEELINGS
This is what I mean when I say that sometimes reading is like attraction, not like actual physical sex but that sense of absorption and obliteration.
In 2011 I had this happen with Susanna Kearsley’s The Winter Sea. I wrote briefly about the book here (and in fact use the phrase “fell in love with”). I retain a visceral and emotional memory of reading one of the very intense emotional scenes from the book. It’s so rare for me to recall such vivid memories of reading, to remember myself in the act of reading, of that process as I was so immersed and caught up in the scene and also aware of how amazingly caught up I was. At one point I remember pausing and marveling at how involved I was, how overwhelmed by the immediacy of the fictional moment.
How strange and wonderful that interaction between reader and text is.
How weird is it that we get so unbelievably involved in characters who don’t exist? And yet characters and worlds and stories linger with me; they are some of my most important experiences. Surely it says something about human beings that stories not only exist in every human culture but that stories under-gird the creation of human culture because they are woven into the fabric not just of our societies but of our own selves.
Story is one of our natural conditions.
Sometimes stories damage us. Sometimes they heal us. Some make us laugh and some make us cry and some make us angry and some ignore us completely. Some stories get more space and brighter colors and are allowed to be loud; some stories are buried, and others are made mute, and others whisper. And we still live through them and sometimes die because of them.
Reading a novel is only one of many varieties of story. The story as novel is a version that has long worked for me, and sometimes I read books so consciously and analytically that I never fall into the page. Some people no doubt believe that “falling into the page” is a way of reading that one ought to be suspicious of, as if immersion, going under, should rouse distrust rather than celebration.
But I celebrate it, for myself. Not everyone reads this way, and that is cool. Be what you are! People don’t all need to read the same way.
As for me, I love falling into the page, falling under the surface of the story. I love getting so caught up that nothing else exists in the moment of reading except this place and these people that another mind has fashioned and sparked with an odd sort of life. Because these are my own preferences, I therefore tend to write with an aim ultimately to creating an immersive experience for readers.
Recently I had this experience of falling to a story with the first three volumes of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant urban fantasy series [Rivers of London aka Midnight Riot in the USA; Moon Over Soho; Whispers Underground]. I’m going to talk about the series in a related post tomorrow that will be filled with spoilers, and I hope any of you who have read it will come and talk about the books with me. Because I Have Feelings.
So what about you guys? Are you immersive readers? Or analytical ones? Or something else? Have you fallen into any books lately? What is your take on fiction kinks vs. fiction boners?
I love it when I do get immersed. It takes a while with certain books and authors, and much easier when others.
When I really start hearing character voices in my head, when I fall completely into a book, crush on characters and lose track of time reading (I’ve missed subway stops when I was living in New York City)…that’s *gold*. Doesn’t always happen, but when it does, I treasure it.
I’m definitely an immersive reader, I don’t think I’d have the stamina to read as much as I do if it were analytical. I’ll never forget reading the first page of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart. I had to put it down after the first couple of paragraphs and take a deep breath. I was lying on my belly, on my bed, and I closed the book and and rested my forehead on the cover and thought to myself, “This is gonna be so good…” and it was. Moments like that are what keep me reading. I hope is isn’t poor form to discuss other authors on your blog, Kate, it’s just a very strong memory of story immersion.
I wish I was a more analytical reader though. It would be nice if I could clarify why I like/dislike certain books. So often my reaction is simply, “It didn’t work for me.” or similar. Unless there is some obvious flaw, my responses tend to be emotional and I think one can’t be immersed without that emotional investment.
Do you think one can learn to read opposite to their natural inclination? Can an analytical reader learn to be immersive/emotional and vice versa?
Oh, yes, this is why I read books, and is the reason I have so many, finishing a really good book can make me feel as if i have just come out of a dream. I can completely tune out everything else when this happens. Girl of fire and thorns by Rae Carson had me last night. I can get through a book without it, but they don’t stick with me so long. I still remember this reaction to reading Robin Hobb’s ship trilogy about 6 years ago, but there is a book i read last month that i can barely remember because it didn’t do that to me.
Because I have to read analytically in an academic setting, I really prefer to read immersively in my non-work-related reading. When I can’t immerse myself in a text and slip into analyzing as I read, it feels like work, rather than leisure- and I prefer not be in that mode.
This isn’t to say that I dislike reading analytically- it’s just that there are certain types of texts that I like to do it with, and others that I prefer to read to have a different type of experience. Doing academic reading, I can feel like a cavewoman butchering and processing a mammoth- highly useful, because it feeds and clothes you, but not exactly a transcendent experience. It’s interesting that many of my friends don’t feel this way (the separate spheres of reading, not the book processing thing) and do close reading of their leisure books for fun. Maybe this is why I’m not a big-L Literature reader, and prefer SF/F.
At one point in my dissertation, I was using trips to the bookstore to loiter and read for a bit as a personal reward for getting through my writing- not buying anything to avoid temptation at home. I found myself reading Cold Magic once, being completely immersed in the story, then a few weeks later starting to pull it off the shelf and read it again. At that point I just gave up and bought it. Luckily, it didn’t end up delaying my graduation 🙂
Yeah, that’s a perfect description. It happens rarely for me but is so enveloping when it does happen.
Of course it is not poor form to discuss other authors. I would not be a writer if I had not had writers to read as I was growing up and forming my own artistic vision, as it were.
I love that description of your reaction to Kushiel’s Dart!
I can be an analytical reader because through writing I’ve learned enough that I can identify things that don’t work (not always, but sometimes). One reason I love an immersive read is that they are rarer for me now than they were when I was young and newer at reading. I value the experience now maybe not more than I did — I think I value it equally — I’m just more aware now how precious it is.
Yes! That feeling is being mired in this place that is still half in the book and only partly in the world and the dreary disappointment of knowing you really do have to return to the world….
Ha! So glad you graduated on time. If you hadn’t, I would have felt so guilty.
That explanation of analytical vs immersive reading really makes sense to me. While I can read literature analytically and can sometimes enjoy it, I get more pleasure from analytical non fiction reading and, like you, really prefer my fiction to be immersive.
I still remember the first time I had this experience, reading Prince Caspian (C.S. Lewis’ Narnia). I came back to reality to find I had no idea that anything outside had even existed for some near infinite amount of time. I may also have come back to the fact that I had let a pot of water boil so dry that it actually melted the pot onto the electric burner, but that could just as easily been another book.
I treasure that feeling of finding yourself, expectedly or unexpectedly, totally immersed in a novel. It is so hard to describe to someone that hasn’t had that experience. I’ve called it ‘falling in love’ before myself and have definitely had those moments with books. I think the most recent immersive experience for me, and it was wholly unexpected, as in reading Hugh Howey’s 5 part Wool story. I will admit to being a bit of a book snob when it comes to self-published work (but hopefully that is changing) and I had heard much praise for this but had not given reading it a second thought until my book club picked the short story, “Wool”, for our weekly read. I wanted to support the person picking it so I read it…and was lost. And I mean lost in hopelessly devoted to you lost! I immediately bought the Omnibus for my Kindle and devoured it. I then went on the evangelism circuit on my blog and others trying to convince people to read it. And to my great pleasure many have and have enjoyed it as much as I have.
But I’m just as likely to have that falling deeply experience with a book where people just don’t get how I can love it. All I can do is pull out that ol’ chesnut, ‘love is blind’.
It’s so true: Love *is* blind!
I’m sometimes hesitant to gush over books because I know that realistically what made a book work so well for me isn’t going to hit anyone else the same way (although it may work equally well for others). I’ve had people gush over a book to me that I liked or was meh about — or sometimes that I loved too.
But that feeling is so powerful if one loves reading that I think we can’t help but want to share.
Ha! Yes, the time dilation thing.
OMG about the melted pot. That could be a measure of a book:
This was a melted pot book for me!
That is why I, as a fan and a person very far away from being a “critic” or “reviewer” try to do my best when I write about a book to express that what I am about to write is largely my a) “experience” with the book and a reminder that b) this is my opinion only, not a statement from on high. If something didn’t work, it didn’t work “for me”. Same for when something does work well for me.
I would honestly rather read a person’s well-written gushing about a book than just about any other kind of review, even if it is of a book I’ve tried and don’t like…or even loathe. I like the passion. I get a thrill when readers are passionate about books, about story.
Yes, me too. I love reading a well done critical take if the reviewer/critic has something to bring to my understanding, but for myself, reviews are difficult to write so if I do talk about a book I tend to talk about the things I liked about a book.
That is what I love: people’s passion for reading.
Reading these comments (and those on lj) gave me an unexpected experience as folks mentioned different books they loved (esp. Alis’s) which leads me to make a somewhat tangential remark which I hope won’t be too out of place:
I find that those books with which I had the most intense reading experiences actually evoke strong mental images of the place(s) where I read them. Mention of Crossroads, for instance, surprised me by summoning a picture of a one-room flat in Bordeaux, while mention of Jaran immediately called to mind a pedestrian street in Madison, Wisconsin. Does anyone else have this type of association? (I’m not sure to what extent this comment is directly about the books 🙂
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That’s really interesting. I do tend to associate The Lord of the Rings with the house where I grew up because that is, in fact, where I read it. The emotion grounds you to the place.
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