After a round of watching TV, and as I was eating some stir-fry today, I thought about something rather interesting*. First, about how each reader takes away something different from a book. And secondly, how an author doesn't describe everything. This is very different than in, for example, the TV show that I was watching**-- where the setting and characters are already there, in detail, and character motivations fall by the wayside in favor of watching character's actions unfold on the screen. Watching a movie, the audience has most things already manufactured by the creator; but an author, in writing, has to leave a certain leeway, at least in the description area.
In books, readers create their own experience. Reading one book: say, Harry Potter*** is a unique experience, just because each reader fills in the gaps left by the author in a different way. For instance, I have a habit of imagining rooms where the action is taking place--perhaps stone-walled and with a fireplace, if we're sticking with the HP scenario--but the underlying material I use to shape this imaginary world is rooted in reality: the room I've imagined that HP lives in has the exact same layout as my parent's bedroom, except the decoration is of course different.****; the meadow I imagine Bella to have stopped in is oddly similar in shape--but not details--to a meadow I remember from my childhood; and Chrestomanci's castle looks a bit like a castle I'd seen in a movie.
This combination in my reading imagination-- of both something extremely foreign but at the same time familiar-- is absolutely fascinating to me. And thinking of all the imagining I've done for past books, I realize a lot of the formatting is recycled. I have the same template for numerous rooms--the same layout, just different interiors--that I use a lot for books I've read. Quite a few characters live in the same house as I do, quite a few played sports in a similar gym to my high school gym, etc. A lot of it is based unconsciously on my experiences: the same field, the same car, the same driveway, the same teapot--they all materialize, with different details, depending on the book--but they appear repeatedly through everything I read, as a sort of continuing pattern or mold.
Of course, there's some settings that I've envisioned that are entirely new, and that I have no idea where they came from. It's actually quite fascinating to re-envision them without the confines of a book's specifications. Are these places from your imagination as a reader, not the author's? Do you own these imaginings? Especially if the author had just described "a house overlooking a lake"--and your response had been to imagine a clear lake at the foot of the mountains with weeds growing at the sides and a house with Spanish architecture.
If you own these imaginings, not the author, does this mean the process of reading is just tapping into your own personal repository of imaginings? What then, makes someone drawn to books?
For me, I've noticed many of my favorite books are mostly the ones--especially in fantasy--where I had the fullest imagining of the setting. Where the details I'd conjured up, in addition to those provided by the author--contributed to the most real and solid world. I suspect the reason it felt so real and solid was the fact that many of the details from my real and solid world had been transposed into this literary version.
It puzzles me that so many millions of people can be deeply in love with a book, despite the fact that their experience and details they impose upon the book must vary widely. I'm sure different readers envision things differently; perhaps entirely different than I do. I'm always imagining the setting with as much detail as I can manage--not the character's physique though. Characters in a book are sort of shadowy to me: I can't get a firm grasp of what their faces look like. But I don't really care--their personality is more important to me.
However, for some readers, maybe this is what they focus on: the physical appearance of the characters, while the setting just sort of melts away. Or perhaps they don't envision much details at all.
I think the only time you get a true glimpse of someone else's vision of a book is when you watch the movie adaptation: the director certainly had a different impression than you did, although many of the major features remain intact. I think it'd be absolutely fascinating to have, say, 100 people who have read the same book, draw a particular setting in the book--perhaps a room, or a building. And then see how it matches up.
When it comes to the gaps an author leaves, do we envision such entirely different things that it's shocking that we love a book for the same reason? Is it all rather similar? Does the fact that I, at least, use some of the details of my real world to flesh out the imaginary--contribute to the connection I feel with books? Is that the beautiful dichotomy of reading---that we are at once able to immerse ourselves in the imaginary, and the unknown, while comfortably imposing our own world into an impossible one?
Okay those are my closing thoughts, I promise. Sorry for the very indulgent mega humongous-ramble. I had these thoughts during dinner and I decided I had to write them down. (And P.S.: sorry for being such a fail of a blogger, disappearing all the time. I'm currently working out how I'll continue blogging. )
*at least to me, hahaha. This is a very self-indulgent post.
*** DOCTOR WHO HECKYEAH.
*** first time around I wrote it "Happy Potter." hehehehe.
****Oh god, that'd be so cool to have a HP themed bedroom!
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