Friday, January 20, 2012

Lost in a Good Book

I'm freezing cold and I think I'm beginning to run a fever. My armpits ache. Am I about to come down with some dread disease? Actually no. I'm re-reading one of my favorite books, Connie Willis's The Doomsday Book.  For those who haven't read it, it takes place at Christmas in the present and in the middle ages--at the start of the Black Death, to be more accurate. I decided to re-read it because it gives a good feel for a medieval Christmas and I wanted to get into the holiday spirit. I'd forgotten about the Black Death part!

The problem with me is that I immerse myself in a book a like. When I don't really care for a book I skim to get the story. When I like it, I'm in it, not conscious of words on the page, experiencing what the characters feel. And currently it's freezing cold and the Black Death has just arrived. I suppose one of my assets/problems is that I have too much imagination. When I go to a good movie I am not watching it happen--I am there. Same with a good book--I've been frozen in Russia with Dr. Zhivago, I've flown over Africa with Beryl Markham and I knew the Southwest perfectly before I ever visited it because of Tony Hillerman.

It's not only the sense of place in books, it's relationships too. Sometimes I find myself snapping my head off at husband John only to realize that the man I'm angry with is actually in the book I'm writing or reading. I suppose this is a great boon to have--I don't actually have to pay for airfare or really have to visit Antarctica. But it can be emotionally draining.  For this reason I tend to stay away from books about children dying or natural disasters wiping out whole communities because I identify too much.

This may be one of the reasons my books work well and readers tell me they identify with my heroines. It's because I identify with my heroines. I don't use them like puppets and put them into scenes in the book. I follow them, being sngry when they are angry, scared when they are scared, stumbling into mistakes with them, and falling in love with them.  It's a scary way to work because I don't exactly know where we are going, but it works for me.

So how about you? Do you get lost in a god book?


  1. Excellent point, Rhys. The great books come from authors who can create worlds we enter as readers. I think of the nightmarish surroundings of Indian Island in Christie's "And Then There Were None," with its claustrophobic terror; I walk the decaying hallways of Erchany Castle with its crazy laird in Michael Innes's "Lament for a Maker"; I feel the chills of the Yorkshire moors in Doyle's "Hound of the Baskervilles." The more the author can involve me in her/his world, the better I will like - and remember - the book.

  2. Oh yes! All the time -- even the snapping at someone else. I just live the book, which is why it is so hard when a book like this ends. Like coming back to earth. One thing I've noticed lately is that I am living even the dialogue. When my husband looks at me strangely and says "WHAT?" I realize I am acting out the scene, with expressions! Kind of embarrassing but an author should be flattered, no?

  3. Oh, I love a book like that. I've been reviewing books for about two years and have had the opportunity to get lost in a number of good books. You are so right that it's like a free vacation.

  4. That's my absolute favorite feeling, to be reading a book and suddenly realize, 'my gosh, I just read 100 pages without even realizing it.' I've felt that way too, angry at a character but taking it out on my poor husband :-)

  5. Yes, I have gotten lost in a good book. When I read your Evan Evans mystery novel, for example, I am climbing the Welsh mountains or having tea with the Queen in your Royal Spyness novel or riding the streetcar in your Molly Murphy novel.

  6. I love that one of my favorite authors ever (you) also loves another one of my favorite authors ever! With one very rare exception Connie Willis' books always pull me in and keep me enthralled. I think of her books as old friends now. In particular, I love To Say Nothing of the Dog, which if you haven't read it, is a fabulous story!