Books

Readers are the writers of their reading experience

I once read a domestic boiler user manual and resonated with the feeling of bursting under pressure. Reading about cooling pipes sent chills flooding through my veins. External steam rising from an internal stream. This theoretical boiler was more real to me than many characters I have read since.

Readers generally try to relate to the characters in the story they’re reading, and writers generally try to make their characters relatable; it’s called good storytelling, it keeps readers engaged, it shapes their personal experiences. Now, I admit that empathizing with a boiler probably wasn’t the intention of the chartered plumber who wrote the manual, but I think all readers can relate to any object they wish.

If you don’t believe me, just imagine seeing Henry the Hoover abandoned in a skip, his face coated in the dust he once greedily slurped up, a gaunt expression in his eyes staring into a nothingness that is contrarily both deep and shallow. This would send an emotional response in anyone who grew up having him as an inanimate family pet, often hated by the animated family pets.I didn’t really care if the boiler I was reading about didn’t have a character.

In fact, the absence of a character is what made it easier to create and insert my own, which I found preferable to the insufferable tin boiler following Dorothy around in the Wizard of Oz. That’s when I realized all characters I have read about have always belonged to me; it is myself, the reader, who determined the contours of characters’ cheekbones, the pitches of their laughs, the shade of green or purple in the grass they step on. All books are relatable to the reader’s experiences because it is their experiences which give the words meaning.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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04/05/2021

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Jim Gell


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