Reading Entertains like Nothing Else.
Thursday, 15 October 2009
I was reflecting on the entertainment value of books as I realized how excited I was to get back home and back to my reading. Why am I so excited to read? This is a question that has haunted me recently. In this world of budding technologies, globalization and computer-generated wonders, I feel like my passion for reading is abnormal. If you asked the average person about their choice form of entertainment, it’s (probably) a good bet that they wouldn’t say “reading”. So why is it that (some) people still love to read? There are a multitude of other, more tactile and terrific graphic mediums than the pages of a book. Well, I’ve thought about this ‘question’ for a while, and I think I’m prepared to give a short answer.
Reading is still a principle form of entertainment because it isn’t graphically terrific or overly showy. The adventure and entertainment is contained in a simple binding, with simple monochrome pages, requiring simple interaction. It’s true books don’t have mini-games, redyellowbluegreen buttons, flashy pictures, loud explosions or striking music. Books have something greater than all that; they have immersion, imagination, and immediacy. Those are the three “i’s” that I arbitrarily bestowed upon the medium- I’m sure you could find hundreds of others. Send me an e-mail!
This is simple: Books are immersive. By choosing to read a book, you’re submitting yourself–your thoughts, attention and interest– to an activity. You actively are required to simulate and maintain the overarching story, the plot, the characters, the character development, the setting, themes, metaphors, diction, tactile adjectives, and color of the protagonist’s hair.
This takes a LOT of work. With every word you read, you’re creating something more expansive, deep and involved than any video game, movie or TV show. You’re creating your own world and manipulating it and changing it with every sentence. This requires a lot of concentration and by the nature of the act, you become absorbed. In visual mediums, you are a third party, an on-looker and a passive bystander- with books, you create the world that exists, guided by sparse details. Simply, you are more involved with your action- this involvement and this ‘work’ of actively maintaining and perceiving a world makes reading interesting by definition. Reading yields a creation that is just as much yours as it is the author’s.
Even a simple sentence (like: “He threw the ball quickly.”) immerses you for a millisecond. Just now, you were involved. Whether you know it or not, you perceived and presented some arbitrary rendering of “he”, “the ball”, and the speed of “quickly”. There ya go, it’s immersive. You create your world, and you are immersed in it.
This is not to mention, for the more advanced readers, the millions of nuances that are an innate part of literature. Sure, at face value a story is immersive and fun, but it’s the stuff between the lines that gets really exciting. The mastery, expertness and subtlety of the author amplifies and changes the work’s aesthetic- studying and realizing this change is fascinating in and of itself.
So, there’s the necessary immersion that follows when reading a story, and then there’s the contemplative immersion that follows the (potential) creative genius of the author.
Well, this is pretty obvious too. Imagination also relates to immersion. When you read you’re immersed in a unique, personal world. However, to be immersed, you have to create that world.
Let’s say the average book is about 250 pages long. That’s a pretty short book, but all the better for my example. In 250 pages or 500 minutes or 8 hours and 15 minutes of reading, you must imagine an entire world. Not only that, but you have to remember and support, imaginatively, every facet of that world. Let’s say you’re reading about a fictional metropolis- well your mind is basically doing the equivalent of creating New York City. Whether the details are explained in the text or not, you have an idea of what the city, its buildings, its streets, its cars, its people, its birds, and its grass looks like. You know generally about its economy, government, and excess or poverty. For specific people in that ‘mind city’ you know their personalities, their inclinations and their persuasions. We know that’s not all of it, but I won’t bore you with excessive enumeration.
Anyway, that clearly makes reading different and exciting like no other entertainment. It’s the equivalent to staring at your TV and being able to image your entire show. Except smarter and more fun.
So you’re immersed and imagining an entire, fictional world- what does that denote? Immediacy!
To prove my point, I’ll compare and contrast: Let’s say you’re playing a video game- the experience can be immediate at times, but never constantly immediate. As you’re playing, you’re never ‘fooled’ to believe that you’re actually fighting for your life, or driving at 200mph. A book is different.
In a book, you don’t have to be ‘fooled’ to experience the immediacy; the immediacy comes naturally as an integral part of Imagination and Immersion. You’re imagining a world and therefore, you’re immersed in a world, and therefore, the world is immediate to you. You’ve invested yourself in creating and setting up a story–in your mind, you’re the protagonist, or antagonist, or innocent bystander. But either way, you’re in the action, and in the story itself.
So if the protagonist suddenly dies, it effects you more than a movie or TV show or video game. You’ve imagined an entire world and lived in that world and a part of your imagination dies with the character. That’s effective and immediate.
So anyway, this is a very brief explanation of possibilities that might explain reading’s superiority in entertainment. I could go on for hours as anyone could, but this is enough for now. Reading- next time you’re doing it, think about it.
God Save the Books,
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