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?