Have you ever wondered why it is that someone loves a book and others hate it? I have and I may have even found out part of the answer. In life, there are observers and participants. Most of us vacillate between the two. More recently, I’ve been more of an observer than a participant; probably part of being middle-aged. Not that I don’t occasionally step out from behind my shield, but I have tended to be more of a watcher in life, until suddenly, I’m not.
One place I definitely am not is when I read, and then I'm very much an emotional participant. I actually feel what the book’s characters are feeling, almost like I’m playing their part on stage. That’s great when it’s good (some of you may remember my story about first listening to a book while driving) but it can be a bit taxing when it isn’t. Sometimes it can even become a bit hellish for me.
I came across the first book through my book club. It was The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai and since I had the CD, I listened to it in my car. Let me first say that it is a well written book. It is set in both India and New York in the mid-1980s and the story is one that really brings you into the unrest in that part of India as well as the plight of the undocumented workers here in the United States. I found it to be very gritty, filled with humiliation, hatred, greed and abusive violence. Nobody really won.
A friend who had read this book previously had thought about me when she finished it and knew that I would hate the book. How well she knows me. It made me wonder how she didn’t feel the same. What I learned is that some, including my friend, read more as an observer, like watching a play instead of being in the play. She was able to keep it at arm’s length, enjoy the writing and not be as negatively impacted as I had been.
Isn't it curious how we can be observers in one aspect in life and participants in others?
I moved on to the next book. This time I tried a bestseller, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. It was an easy and quick read, almost as if it had been written to become a screenplay. My guess is that it will be. Essentially this is a sociopathic 'he said, she said' story about a couple’s downward spiral. Oh joy! While I did find it somewhat compelling, I can’t really say I liked the book. Personally, I’m really not very fond of being inside the mind of a sociopathic killer. Yet it was interesting, to say the least, and I liked it a little more than the previous book.
I was beginning to feel a little like Goldilocks.
Finally, my third choice was one I had previously returned to the library without reading, The Night Circus, a fantasy novel by Erin Morgenstern. It is a story of illusion. Along with the beauty and mystery, there is manipulation and cruelty, but there is also love. There is a circus, though one that is only open at night; a place where illusionists focus on hiding that the magic is real, as opposed to convincing the audience that the false trick is magic.
Though it can be a little challenging to follow this book, at least initially, with its multiple time lines and questionably connected characters, I found the story to be alluring to both the observer and the emotional participant within me. Everyone and everything was more chimera than real. I could never completely grasp onto the illusion. It was a little like falling in love. All I could do was meander through the beautiful fantasy and enjoy the ride; which I most certainly did. Oh, and I also began to crave caramel covered popcorn.
There’s a line in this book that I love. It tells of how a tale told may take up residence in someone’s soul, and become their blood and self and purpose. When I do find a book that resonates with me, like this one, that is exactly how I feel.
Like Goldilocks, I found the right fit on the third try. Now, I just need to watch out for bears…