On Books and Obsession and My Crazy Brain

Have you ever become so personally involved with a book, so emotionally connected, that when you overhear other people – strangers who are not part of this private world – mention a character in passing, as if they have the right to casually say his name, you are shocked and appalled?

I have. It’s happened only a handful of times, but when it did, shocked and appalled didn’t cover it.

At first, I was confused. How does this unknown person even know who that is? They weren’t there. They didn’t see this amazing thing occur. Then, when sensibility kicked in, I was hurt, almost betrayed, as if the character had cheated on me with someone else. It took a few more moments for rationality to take over. Because I do have a handle on reality, I did eventually grasp the notion that the fictional people in the story don’t live in my own secret realm. I was forced to recognize they were created by an author and everyone knows them because Hollywood produced a blockbuster based on the novel. They don’t belong to me.

Reality bites.

Luckily for my sanity points, this doesn’t happen often. It is rare when I can immerse myself altogether. Given the large amount of my spare time I spend absorbed in one book after another, it is something special that causes this intense of a reaction. As it happened recently with a popular young adult series, this feeling has been on my mind. I don’t know if it is the writing itself that does it, or my frame of mind when I am reading.  Now that I am attempting to take my own writing more seriously, I am curious about the particular set of circumstances that enable me to forget myself in such a way. What makes a story so good, and the characters so relatable, that it is possible for a reader to immerse herself so entirely?

I can’t take timing out of the equation, of course. No doubt my mental head space contributes. Nevertheless, when I recall the books with which I have been the most enamoured, they were usually novels written for younger generations: Anne of Green Gables, Tuck Everlasting, Hunger Games… Is it because the writing itself is simpler? Or perhaps because the characters are younger? Youth and all of its fumbling generally makes for a compelling story. For myself anyway, It is often much easier to understand the motivations of a teenager than those of a middle-aged male. There is less artifice, more instinct. Their flaws are raw and their mistakes forgivable. However, just because I find myself obsessed with young adult dystopia as of late doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a little Wally Lamb. Or even, on especially unique occasions, Steinbeck.

That’s what I love the most about books, fiction and non, and why I panic about not reading enough. Every single one is an opportunity to discover a new perspective. Some more than others, for inexplicable reasons, just entice me down the rabbit hole.

What do you think? Have you ever gotten this caught up by a book? Am I just plan nuts?

14 thoughts on “On Books and Obsession and My Crazy Brain

  1. What book what that?

    it happened to me when i was reading “Marley and Me”… since it was about the same time we got Pluto home… so i couldnt really help but agree and immerse my self… 🙂

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  2. I love reading books (I’m even studying to become a librarian :D), but I envy you (and bunch of other people, like, at least half of my schoolmates). I rarely get that kind of “flow” when reading. Actually, I’m not quite sure if I’ve ever had one… But I do admit that most of the times I just read and not think much what I read. Mostly because the books are so boring and because I have some kind of a neurosis, I can’t let the book to be unfinished. Every book I start I have to finish it (heck, I have read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species because of this!). And I also have a short concentration span, even if the books would be interesting my mind just starts to lose it and I find myself thinking of other things. And that’s really a shame. I wish I could have that flow someday.

    -Lilli-

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  3. Even though I am a cynic, I love classic literature and Jane Austen is no exception. She cracks through my cold, dark heart in a way romcoms never will (hate Love Actually. Hate it. And Pretty Woman).

    And Persuasion is just this book. I remember the first time reading it – my heartbeat quickened and my eyes flew across the pages as my brain screamed “read the damn letter! What does it say?!”

    Even now. That book. So good. Such genius.

    And then you know that feeling when a book has profoundly affected you, but you look up and the world is still going and no one else knows exactly what’s happened? You can be on the train or something. Close the cover, exhale, look around, and no one knows what just happened in the realm of your imagination, but you just had a crazy/funny/sad/joyful experience. Bizarre.

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  4. I have to say I love reading and don’t spend enough time doing it. It was one of the changes in routine that I had when I was with him, we would go to bed and read for half an hour and I would love it. I am hoping once I get settled into my own place I will pick up this habit once again!

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  5. Yes, absolutely! I’m a fanatical reader. My goal is to read 100 books a year for the rest of my life; for the past few years, I’ve been able to accomplish that (but adding Eden to the household has certainly cut into my reading time!). Book that I most recently got engrossed in: “The Orphan Master’s Son,” by Adam Johnson. Beautifully written, darkly funny, very action-centric novel about North Korea; won the Pulitzer this past year. Recommended!

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  6. Anne of Green Gables is great! When I was in high school I made it my mission to read as many classics as I could, but so many books, not enough time. I did pretty well though. I love it when you think about the characters and want to know what comes next. I only hope some day my books will inspire the same excitement.

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  7. I get lost in the world of Jane Austen and have to visit it again and again. I know the feeling of wondering how some stranger could ever know that world I know so well when I don’t even know the person and don’t remember inviting them in.

    Yes, you are probably a little nuts. So am I. So what?

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  8. Steven King can suck me in better than most writers. I love his books – but after reading have spent many a night sleeping with the lights on and looking for clowns in the gutter

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  9. I recently read an amazing first novel: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis. It was brilliant. From the first chapter I wanted to call Ms. Mathis to thank her for writing such a brilliant book. But I feel a little sad that reading is such a solitary pursuit. I wish I could find someone else who has read it so I could talk to them about it.

    I guess that’s the extrovert’s response to a good book. 🙂

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    • Thanks for the book recommendation! After spending the last two weeks reading nothing but books telling me how to be a better writer, I think it is time I dip into something with a little more depth and a little less instruction. I will let you know what I think!

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  10. This has not happened to me, but my youngest daughter gets so immersed (and a little obsessed) with a fictional world that she thinks that everyone else is too. Like, the day of the week or the month and year, she thinks that the fictional characters/plot/world is in the common knowledge base. She can’t imagine that everyone else isn’t in the same fictional world. It’s the same problem, but a little bit different.

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