Has This Ever Happened to You While Reading?
I’m curious to know whether this happens to anyone besides myself. You see, sometimes, when I’m reading a book, I feel very strongly about the beginning of the book, and then, at some point in the middle, I find that I’ve become incredibly detached from it. Even if the book is basically the same from beginning to end. The easiest example is a book that’s incredibly depressing. I’ll read the first 50 or 100 pages and feel absolutely terrible until I hit a certain point. And beyond that point, I just don’t care anymore.
Obviously, I still want things to get better for the characters, but it’s a wish that’s made entirely without feeling. From that point forward, I’m completely aware that these are fictional characters and nothing that happens to them is real. The story loses its power to affect me in any real way.
Perhaps it would help if I explained in more detail. This doesn’t happen to me often, but it has happened on at least two occasions now. The first time I can remember was when I was reading The Things They Carried. Another happened more recently while I was reading A Star Called Henry.
I read The Things They Carried for AP English class. It’s a book about the Vietnam War, and, right off the bat, I should tell you that I normally hate reading anything about war because it has such a strong negative effect on me emotionally. And that was no less true for this book. I hated it, hated it, hated it all the way up to the scene with the water buffalo. If you’ve read the book, you should know exactly what I’m talking about. It was this scene that made me want to chuck the book against a wall. I honestly might have if it hadn’t been a book that belonged to the school.
And from that point forward, I was unemotional, detached, not even close to caring what happened to any of the characters. A certain character died, and while my classmates went on about how he was one of their favorites and it was so sad, my thoughts were running along the lines of “Yeah, the author told us that was going to happen. I’m not surprised.” Completely tuned out. I registered every event, every bit of dialogue, all the information from our classroom discussions so that I could do well in the class, but I was almost completely numb to it.
Something similar happened while I was reading A Star Called Henry this semester. You may remember that I wrote a post about it when I was around 100 pages in, saying that it was very depressing. With this book, I can’t pin it down to any one passage, but at some point I realized that I found it much less depressing.
The point at which I realized for sure that I had crossed that line occurred during a passage where Henry is having trouble with some G-men (I won’t say why so that I’m not giving too much away) and they tell him to hand over his father’s old wooden leg. Henry is in huge trouble here, not sure what will happen to him. Just before this were a plethora of scenes that I should have been affected by, and all I feel is a slight twinge: “Aw, not the leg!” Now, that leg does have special meaning within the story, but still, it registered even in my mind that this was a very weird reaction to the section as a whole.
From then on, once again, I was reading just to know. I needed to know what happened all the way to the end of the story and what was important about it for the purposes of the class, and there my ties to the book ended. Whether things went well or things got worse, I just nodded and said, “Uh huh, I’ll make sure I remember that.”
Have you ever read a book that has made you completely disconnect from it this way? Any theories about it? It’s probably got some really interesting psychology thing related to how the brain works, but, unfortunately, I’m not a psychologist. All I know is that it’s true for me, and it certainly makes things interesting sometimes.