Why Do We Feel Emotions For Fictional Characters When They Don’t Exist?

Don’t you just love that feeling when you dive straight into the world of a book, becoming almost like a secondary character to the story that unfolds, feeling the character’s emotions as if they’re your own?

It’s only when we think more about the process of reading a novel that we realise the emotions that arise are for non-beings. We are feeling a story that doesn’t exist in the real, physical world and yet it feels as real as anything. Why is this? How is this? How is the brain capable of translating a fictional text into a real world inside our own minds? And why do we believe in it?

I don’t think there is an answer to any of these questions – not definitively – but I do think it’s interesting to reflect upon. I find that when I’m reading a book, I often lose track of time. It really is like entering a new world. But I also know that I become the world. Not just in my mind, but my emotions are intertwined with that of the characters.

I think perhaps this is down to humans being, at heart, social beings. Whether a character is real or not, we relate to them in some way. After all, the characters are written by real humans and often those real human authors slide parts of themselves into their characters. It is almost like a lens in which we see the author through the character, yet in our minds it is still the character, but it allows us to relate to another life wholly different to our own.

Perhaps we feel the emotions of a character as our own because we read to feel something – I know, on some level, I do. We read to find something to latch onto – something relatable, something meaningful, something real. We read to understand the human condition better – whether we realise it or not – or we read to see a different perspective. Essentially, we must read for the same reason we read a film or watch a TV show – they are almost one and the same.

The Theory of Mind says that reading improves empathy and I agree; reading a book is like meeting a lot of different people at a party except they are in their natural habitat and their thoughts are sometimes expressed and they’re unique and not real but could easily be real, if they were fathomed into existence.

Ultimately, our mind is capable of wild imagination. Reading a book is, at its core, simply reading words on a page, and yet we create this whole world in our minds – the way it looks, the way it feels – from these words. It is our capability to imagine that makes it so real. Without our mind transferring these words into a little film inside our head, perhaps we wouldn’t be so emotionally attached to the journey. Perhaps we wouldn’t really absorb any of it at all.

The truth is that reading is a truly unique experience. One book has millions of different versions inside the heads of every single person who reads it. And no one can enter that other experience. No one knows what it’s like to see those words through the lens of those eyes, because they only know their own. Reading becomes a personal experience. It has to be. We connect with it in the way that we want to connect with it, even if the link isn’t even really there. And I think we do that with a lot of things; we find ourselves in art because that’s how something becomes meaningful – when we can relate to it. It’s both self-indulgent and curious and sad and enlightening. It’s many things that can’t really be put into words.

And I think this post is mostly me typing out a load of my thoughts with no coherence to them whatsoever but, like reading, it’s just one single personal experience and to you it’s a whole other personal experience, but they all join to one point: the love of reading. And I think that’s pretty remarkable.

Why do you think we feel emotions for fictional characters?

I’d be interested to know what you think.

Let me know in the comments below!


‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig [Book Review]

Where do I even start? This book was brilliant, inspiring, heart-warming, emotional, interesting and, most of all, important. It had a lot to say and it said it beautifully.


Summary

“Sometimes just to say your own truth out loud is enough to find others like you.”

The Midnight Library is a place between life and death. When Nora decides to end her life, she finds herself in this library, full of books of lives she could have had if only she’d made a different decision. One by one, she enters these lives, in an attempt to find her ‘perfect life’, in an attempt to really live.


I absolutely loved this book – from the beautiful cover, to the world created, to the final moments of the story. I felt completely entranced by the world Haig had created and I honestly couldn’t put it down.

There were so many directions this novel could have taken. Like the amount of potential lives available to Nora, the book had infinite possibilities in terms of what lives could be chosen and described, how Nora entered and lived lives that weren’t technically hers, and how this would change her as a character.

But I needn’t worry how Haig would make this happen because he found a way (like always), and I absolutely loved journeying with Nora as she figured out what she wanted from life and what she needed to be happy. Although she was switching between physical lives, I’m sure this is something relatable for a lot of people who switch between careers, hobbies, trying to find who they are and what makes their life meaningful. We all have regrets, things we wished we would have done differently. This book is all about how we deal with them.

The ending particularly resonated with me, not because I had necessarily been through the exact same experiences as Nora, but because I’ve experienced that same metaphorical clicking of a “switch” where suddenly everything that once felt exhausting now feels full of acceptance and gratitude and love. It’s a transformation where your life is the same, but you feel like you’re a different person and you’re seeing it in a different way. And seeing Nora have this same realisation really meant something to me. The solutions we think we need aren’t in our exterior surroundings, but within ourselves.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I am a huge Matt Haig fan and he inspires me hugely in my own writing. This book honestly blew me away, to the extent that it may even replace my current favourite book The Humans.

Overall, I would describe The Midnight Library as a philosophical dystopian reflection on what it means to truly live. And I think it is full of deeper quotes that would help anyone reflect on their own lives and find their inner meaning.

Check out my other Matt Haig book reviews here:

The Humans / Reasons to Stay Alive / Notes on a Nervous Planet / The Possession of Mr Cave / How to Stop Time / Echo Boy

Have you read The Midnight Library?

Let me know below – I’d love to discuss it!


You can find me on social media here:

Instagram: @mymindspeaksaloud

Twitter: @mindspeaksaloud

Goodreads: mymindspeaksaloud

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom [Book Review]

During lockdown, I read the book Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom and was blown away by how inspiring and emotional it was. I knew straight away that I wanted to read more of Albom’s books, and so that’s how I stumbled upon The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

What I love about Mitch Albom’s writing is that, although it’s very simple, it encourages a lot of inner reflection. I find myself viewing my life through a different lens and finding meaning I didn’t realise was there. It keeps me philosophising and thinking and feeling in new ways, and that’s one of my favourite things to do.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven was no exception. Set in the afterlife of Eddie, an eighty three year old war veteran, his seemingly unimportant life is explained by five people who were in it, from loved ones to strangers, each one unravelling a deeper meaning. Every person he meets in heaven has a lesson to teach him.

I think this book, similarly to Tuesdays with Morrie, has endless amounts of potential to teach people how to find their place in the world. It touches on the very real notion that sometimes, as humans, we feel like we are just living every day the same. We become consumed by habits and mistakes and emotions, amongst the good of course, but sometimes we reflect and wonder how much impact we are really having on the world.

For me, the overarching message of this book was that everyone has an impactful life, whether they believe it or not. Within the book, Eddie is a man who feels lost in life; he believes he wasted his time working his father’s old job and could have made something better of himself, but it is only once he is in heaven that he realises he impacted the world in ways he had never even considered. The children would not be safe and happy if he had not fixed the fairground rides. His wife wouldn’t be a wife without him. His life was more than just his life. He was part of everybody’s life who he came into contact with.

The book is asking us to find those impactful moments in our own life, to dig deep and really understand where we’re making a difference. We must find our meaning before it’s too late, before we haven’t fully appreciated the mark we’ve left on the world, and the marks others have left for us.

What are the Five Lessons in The Five People You Meet in Heaven?

As previously mentioned, Eddie meets five people during his time in heaven, and I thought it would be interesting to compile all five lessons he learnt, alongside my favourite quotes from the section.

Lesson 1:

“No life is a waste,” the Blue Man said. “The only time we waste is the time we spend thinking we are alone.”

Everything happens for a reason. Nothing and no one is unimportant because everything filters into a meaning, even if it is incomprehensible.

Lesson 2:

“Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you’re not really losing it. You’re just passing it on to someone else.”

Sacrifices are inevitable. They are part of life. They aren’t always about losing. Sometimes they are about gaining in a different sort of way, but they should never be about regret.

Lesson 3:

“Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves.”

Forgiveness is important – not just for the other person, but for ourselves. Revenge does nothing but fuel the anger inside of us. Forgiveness is what lets the pain go.

Lesson 4:

“Lost love is still love, Eddie. It takes a different form, that’s all. You can’t see their smile or bring them food or tousle their hair or move them around a dance floor. But when those senses weaken, another heightens. Memory. Memory becomes your partner. Your nurture it. You hold it. You dance with it.

Life has to end. Love doesn’t.”

The power of love, beyond the immediacy of physical life. It doesn’t falter with distance or death. It reignites with memories.

Lesson 5:

“The secret of heaven: that each affects the the other and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories, but the stories are all one.”

(My favourite quote of the book!)

Every life is purposeful, meaningful and impactful. We live in a world where lives coalesce – we can’t help it. We share our stories in more ways than we could ever know.

Have you read The Five People You Meet in Heaven?

Or are you inspired by any of the quotes I’ve shared?

Let me know in the comments below!


You can find me on social media here:

Instagram: @mymindspeaksaloud

Twitter: @mindspeaksaloud

Goodreads: mymindspeaksaloud

Weekly Wellbeing Challenge: Week 18

The challenge for this week was… Read Before Bed!

Here is a small overview of how I got on with the challenge.

[and don’t forget, it’s not too late to sign up to my newsletter if you haven’t already!]

Reading before bed is something I started doing at the beginning of 2020. Since university (or even A levels), I lost my love of reading for fun, because I was so focused on reading for educational purposes. Now that I’ve graduated (and we’ve been in lockdown), I’ve had more time to read than ever and I’ve been really enjoying it!

Ever since I started reading before bed, my sleep has improved hugely. I find it difficult to switch off my mind at night, so putting away my phone (and any screens with blue lights) and focusing on a book helps me wind down.

I noticed that the one night I didn’t read before bed this week, it took me a lot longer to fall asleep. It’s become such a habit that I rely on it a lot to help me feel sleepy, and it’s become so ingrained in my routine that even if I skip one night I really miss it!

I think there’s so much conflicting advice on how to sleep better – some people say that doing a passive task (such as watching TV) is better than doing an active task (reading), whereas I’ve found it to be the opposite with me. Perhaps by doing an active task it tires my brain out quicker.

Either way, I find it very interesting how the brain can be affected so hugely by small changes to everyday routines.

What change have you recently made to your routine? What was the effect?

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green [Book Review]

John Green is one of those authors I collected books of as a child. Not only did I have Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns, but I read Will Grayson Will Grayson and An Abundance of Katherines too. However, it has been many years since I’ve opened one of these books – the last time was probably when I was thirteen or fourteen years old, seven years ago.

So, hearing about Turtles All the Way Down I thought, why not relive my childhood, but with a new John Green book?

I can’t say it was the most magical experience of my life, but here I am writing about it anyway!

Summary

Turtles All the Way Down follows the story of sixteen-year-old Aza (and her best friend Daisy). Struggling with the spiral of her own thoughts, and the town’s disappearance of a billionaire, she is drawn towards the character of Davis. She yearns to figure out where his father has disappeared to, but also figure him out too.

 

My Thoughts

I don’t think this book was necessarily bad, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to. John Green is a good writer – there are many quotable lines and I like the deeper meanings he embeds within the storyline – however I just wasn’t feeling it.

One thing that particularly frustrated me about this book was that I didn’t connect with any of the characters. And, hey, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by that. After all, it is a YA book and I’m slowly morphing out of that age range…

I think John Green did a good job at portraying Ava’s mental health struggles – it felt all-consuming – but it didn’t feel all-consuming for me as a reader and that’s where the problem came in. I felt too distanced from the character’s lives, as if there was something missing from their character development for me to feel their pain in the same way that they do.

I also found Ava’s thought process very negative, which is completely the point – as she is battling her mental health – but as someone who tries to stay in a positive mindset, I just couldn’t relate to her belief that thoughts can’t be changed (because I think with a lot of work, they can). However, I do think that if I had read this book in the past, I would have related a lot more. I just feel like I’m in a different stage of life now.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad book – it was written well and something made me want to continue – but it just wasn’t really for me.

 

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Have you read Turtles All the Way Down?

What did you think?

You can find me on social media here:

Instagram: @mymindspeaksaloud

Twitter: @mindspeaksaloud

Goodreads: mymindspeaksaloud

I Made My Bookshelf Into A Rainbow ( + Anyone Want to Swap Books?)

Last week, I decided to declutter my entire bookshelf. It was a long process, and it was difficult to let a lot of books go, even though I knew deep down that there was no point in keeping them, since I wasn’t likely to reread.

I decided to organise my bookshelf into a rainbow, because I’ve seen so many people do this and I love how aesthetic it is! However, I realised that I have way too many white books, so guess who will be searching for wildly coloured books from now on?

Here was the result:

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I’ve also recently joined a site called BookSwap! It is a place where you can offer your old books to other people, in return for points, which you can then use to buy other second-hand books (with only a £3 postage fee). It’s a great way to be sustainable, and I also love the idea of passing on books for other people to hold.

If you invite friends, they get a free book (+ postage) and, in return, you get a free book (+ postage) too, so here’s my invite link if you’d like to join!

Below is a photo of all the books I’m currently trying to give away/sell/swap, so if anyone is interested in any of these books, please drop me a message in the comments, over on my instagram or twitter,  or email me at: mymindspeaksaloud@gmail.com

I’m willing to swap books with you (if you have any you are decluttering too!) or you can buy one of mine for a small price! (to cover postage etc.)

If you know anyone else who might be interested in these books, please pass on the message! 😊

I hope you all have a great week and get some quality reading time to relax!

You can find me on social media here:

Instagram: @mymindspeaksaloud

Twitter: @mindspeaksaloud

Goodreads: mymindspeaksaloud

The Nine-Chambered Heart by Janice Pariat [Book Review]

This was the chosen May read for the book club I recently joined! This is the first review I’ve done of a book I actually didn’t like all that much! But I think sometimes writing bad reviews are quite fun, because you get to rant about all the things you wish were better!

Going into this book, I was looking forward to seeing how the story would unravel. I absolutely loved the premise – that it focused around one women, with nine different perspectives from people who loved her during her life (or “loved”, should I say). I expected something deep and reflective, that would make me contemplate the way perspective really does change everything. But instead, it fell kind of flat.

 

Here are the three main reasons it didn’t work for me:

 

Each voice wasn’t distinctive enough

If you’re going to have nine different perspectives, they all need to have their own spin on life, and it’s not enough to just throw them into a different place and a different situation. A lot of the voices overlapped and merged and I didn’t feel like I inhabited their character at all. They all felt and acted along the same sorts of lines, which made me question their human capacity.

 

The writing itself was lacking

This might sound a little brutal, but the way it was written just wasn’t for me. It had all the things we are always told not to do in creative writing class, such as excessive adverbs and telling rather than showing. It felt like a book of statements, rather than a book of insight and understanding.

For example:

‘You say it’s delicious, but on your face I can see sadness.’ (how do you see sadness?? explain don’t just state it)

‘I decide to tell you the truth. // ‘No.’ // You don’t seem surprised.’ (again, show that they’re not surprised. A shrug of the shoulders, or a blank face.)

 

Lost potential of could-be brilliant ideas

There were so many elements of this book that I really felt could have been meaningful, but their potential just wasn’t reached. For example, the vagueness of the characters, the fact that they had no names. I think this would have worked really well, but only if the characters had distinct voices to make them memorable.

I loved the idea of ‘the city with a river’ versus the ‘city with no river’ but it was completely lost on me because I was so confused at where the woman was situated in half of the stories, and where each other person was situated in relation to that. There needed to be more locational reference points.

There were also some phrases that did dig a bit deeper and intrigued me. Such as: ‘they will grow up and plunge into vocations that do not call for beauty’ and ‘the ones we pretend to ignore are the ones we are most aware of’. But these were very sparse, which was a shame, because if the whole book had this kind of depth then it would have been magical.

 

Overall, I found that, even by the ending, I didn’t feel like I knew the woman all that well. The stories that stuck with me the most were the art teacher and the musician, but I suspect that’s only because they were touched on more than once throughout the book. I really wanted to like this book, but it didn’t work out.

 

⭐️ ⭐️ out of 5

 

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Have you read The Nine-Chambered Heart?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

(even if you loved it, I won’t judge!)

You can find me on social media here:

Instagram: @mymindspeaksaloud

Twitter: @mindspeaksaloud

Goodreads: mymindspeaksaloud

The Possession of Mr Cave by Matt Haig [Book Review]

A few weeks ago, I asked you all to vote for what book I read in May, and The Possession of Mr Cave won! So, here is the review that some of you have been waiting for…

There was something so undeniably disturbing about this book – the fact that a man so seemingly “normal” can completely lose himself to madness in the depths of trauma. The story follows a father who, in the past, has lost his mother and wife, and has recently lost his son. The only person left that really matters to him is his daughter, and he decides he will do anything to protect her.

It was an intriguing read, subtlety possessing my attention as Mr Cave continued to dive further into his obsessions. I was shocked at some of the decisions he made, including putting a baby monitor in his fourteen year old daughter’s room to listen into her conversations, but mostly because he didn’t go about them all in a secretive way – he would tell Cynthia, his daughter’s grandmother. He tried to justify his actions with words and I think, in his head, he believed everything he was doing really was acceptable. And, for me, that was what was disturbing most of all. 

Of course, I love the way that Haig writes, with so much human intricacy and feeling, even in the perspective of a character so terrifying. There is no doubting he has a great writing style – I’ve explored this many times before in my reviews of his other books: The Humans, Reasons to Stay Alive, Notes on a Nervous Planet, How to Stop Time and Echo Boy.

For some reason, I don’t have many words for The Possession of Mr Cave, not in the same way that I did with his other books, but I guess that’s because I have no idea how to sum up such a uniquely worrying, terrifyingly real study of the life of someone who just loses control. And there is no way to be shocked by the ending without revealing everything that occurs. Instead, it’s one of those books that, I’m afraid, you will have to read to figure out!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of 5

 

 

Have you read The Possession of Mr Cave?

Or any other books by Matt Haig?

Let me know in the comments!

You can find me on social media here:

Instagram: @mymindspeaksaloud

Twitter: @mindspeaksaloud

Goodreads: mymindspeaksaloud

‘You’ by Caroline Kepnes [Book Review]

Before picking up this book, I’d already seen both season 1 and 2 of the TV show ‘You’. Normally, I try to read the book before seeing the adaptation, so this was a very strange experience!

It’s hard to know what I would have rated this book if I hadn’t seen the show. Perhaps I would have had a lower opinion of it, since I would have had to rely on the writing for imagery, or a higher one because I wouldn’t have seen the twists coming. Either way, I can only comment on my experience as it is.

Overall, I loved reading this. It was surprisingly very similar to the show, especially in terms of Joe’s voice and character – I didn’t find it hard to connect his literary persona with his theatrical one. I thought it was so interesting having it from the perspective of Joe because I could really get inside of his head. The more I read, the creepier he became, but it was weird trying to understand the internal voice of a sociopath. I think, stereotypically, they are seen as people with no emotion who intentionally harm people, but I think what made this book so intriguing was the fact that Joe did care – in fact he cared too much – and the reason he did everything he did was because he genuinely believed, in his own head, that he was doing what was right and what was best for the person he loved. And it was really quite scary how distorted his view was.

I found the character of Beck to be slightly disconnected from her character in the TV show. I’m not quite sure why, but it could be down to the book being from the perspective of Joe. He often tried to twist her into a bad person in the book, which isn’t necessarily reality, it is just his reality. It’s funny how perspective can completely change the way you see things.

This is the kind of book that is completely addictive. I wanted to pace through it and could quite easily have finished it in a few days if I hadn’t forced myself to drag it out. The writing itself isn’t necessarily the best I’ve ever read, but the character voice is so strong that you can’t help but be drawn into the world.

Part of me wishes I could have read this book before I’d seen the show, just to see if my opinions would have been different. But at the same time, I liked having the show in the back of my mind as it meant the story’s world was already set up in my mind and all I had to do was jump in again.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ out of 5

 

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Have you read or seen ‘You’?

Let me know your thoughts below!

You can find me on social media here:

Instagram: @mymindspeaksaloud

Twitter: @mindspeaksaloud

Goodreads: mymindspeaksaloud

RESULTS: What Book I’m Reading in May

A few days ago, I asked you all to vote for what book I should read in May.

I loved hearing all your votes! It was really interesting to see what titles grabbed your attention – it proves that book titles really can make a difference.

Here are the results – votes gathered from blog comments, Instagram and friends/family.

WINNER: The Possession of Mr Cave – 8 votes

RUNNER-UP: Everything I know About Love – 6 votes

Tuesdays with Morrie – 3 votes

When Things Fall Apart, Universal Love, and After You’d Gone – 1 vote each

Thank you to everyone who took part! I have started reading The Possession of Mr Cave already, and will most likely fit in Everything I Know About Love and maybe even Tuesdays with Morrie this month as well.

What are you reading at the moment?

Let me know in the comments!