A while ago I shared a blog post about why we write and I thought to follow this, it would make sense to write one about why we read.
Here are a few quotes that inspired this:
“‘You identify with the characters; you feel as if it’s your own heart that’s beating beneath their costumes.’… ‘Have you ever had the experience…of finding, in a book, some vague idea you’ve had, some shadowy image from the depths of your being, which now seems to express perfectly your most subtle feelings?'” – Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (p75)
“…this drama is not fiction or romance. All is true. So true that everyone can recognize its elements in his own circle, perhaps in his own heart.” – Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac (p2)
From these, I particularly love the idea of your heart ‘beating beneath their costumes’. A lot of the time we read as an escape, but I think more than anything it’s a way to find people who understand you. I love that feeling when you read something and it’s exactly how you feel, or is put into words so perfectly that you’re just like aaaa ( because there is literally no way to explain this feeling in words).
The idea of fiction being all true is also an interesting concept. If the author has written something from the imagination within his own head, which I suppose is made up of the amalgamation of past experiences and emotions, then isn’t their work real? Or even if not real, isn’t it in some way the truth?
When we write, as I’ve said in my previous post, we often subconsciously let out our inner thoughts. If this is the case, then no matter how exaggerated or fantastical a novel of fiction is, the underlying concepts are actually the undertones of the author’s brain. It’s the author’s truth – it’s wrapped up in lots of wrapping paper like pass the parcel and as we unpick and analyse and uncover each layer we will eventually get to the root of it all. And if the truth isn’t the root of it all, then what is?
Some may wonder why we would even want to read about other people’s truth, but I think that’s the most interesting part about it. We want to read other people’s truths because how else will we ever understand? Reading seems to be the closest way of getting inside someone’s brain without actually opening it up and hopping inside. And why would you skip on that chance? Because knowing how other people feel is not only a comfort if we feel the same, but it is also intriguing and insightful and we learn more about the human race than we ever would otherwise. I’m sure those who have good knowledge of books know far more about other people’s worlds and their lives than anyone who hasn’t. It’s a kind of experience you can’t get through anything else. Reading is so much more than just reading; it’s a whole other world inside your brain.
Recently in creative writing we have been talking about ekphrastic poems (= vivid description of a work of art) and my attempt at one closely links to the subject I’m talking about here, so I thought I’d end on it:
When I read over the words it was like I became a character of the page, a person born from the author’s mind, popping out of the cover. I had all these words glued to my skin – they weren’t mine, they couldn’t ever be mine, but I felt them like they were. I embodied this body like my body ceased to be. And when I saw someone else like me, popping out into this fantasy land, I took their hand, because I couldn’t let this go, no I couldn’t let this go.
I looked up from the pages and smiled at the guy with a book in the corner.
We were unknowingly connected.