"After all, reading is arguably a far more creative and imaginative process than writing; when the reader creates emotion in their head, or the colors of the sky during the setting sun, or the smell of a warm summer's breeze on their face, they should reserve as much praise for themselves as the do for the writer - perhaps more."
- Jasper Fforde, The Well of Lost Plots
As always, not only does Mr.Fforde make a good point regarding fiction, he makes it beautifully. For long people have spoken of the magic of books, how books suck the reader into a world of their own, how they linger in the hearts and minds of readers long after the last page has been turned. Bookmarks acting as anchors navigating us through the literary world, dogears acting as messy reminders of a sentence much loved: these are remnants of a familiar reading experience. And like Fforde points out, it is the reader's emotional involvement with a book that makes the book a wonderful read.
For me, topics I relate to, themes I love, eras I'm interested in, make the book more personal. I tend to remember the books that moved me to tears more than the ones that were just thrilling. Indeed when I sit back and think about it, I'm amazed by the power and control that a good book has on its reader: it can make you angry (The White Tiger), reduce you to tears (Curfewed Night), make you long to live in a fictional universe (the Harry Potter series) and simply stay in your mind forever (The Group, anything Austen). Books are far more than the sum of their words and pages.
I distinctly remember refusing to read some books at night, fearing that their topics were too sensitive and that I'd be left with nightmares. Sometimes I just stop at a paragraph, pause, linger and personalize it. I'm now reading Yasmin Khan's brilliant book The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan and when I'm not teary-eyed, I get goosebumps.
Clearly, Partition is an intensely emotional topic for many Indians and Pakistanis and a book doesn't really seem like the best outlet to learn about it and react to it. But it is. Sitting in a corner, book in hand, I reconcile with the history that made my country and the tragedies and confusions that came with it. Flipping through pages, I stare at events that impacted the subcontinent.
Sure, you could argue that a TV show or a film with its visual impact does the job even better. But there's something rather magical and comforting about sinking into a book and coming out of it understanding the world, looking at things in a different light. And many of those who claim books can change lives do have a point.