A few years back, Rainbow Rowell wrote a post titled “Learn to Read, Kid, But Don’t Fall In Love.” Sadly, it’s been taken down, but it can still be found in pdf format around the web, because it was important to many people. Myself included.
It compared the love of reading to addiction. It pointed out that reading is an escape from reality. “Sometimes I worry that I’m not really living. That I’m spending as much time in secondhand lives than I am in the real thing.” Give it a read, it’s short.
I feel I’ve pretty much overcome this addiction. But I worry about the lasting effects.
I often feel detached from the world. I find myself unable to fully trust anyone, to get fully attached to any person or group of people. I don’t trust anything to last, and I live my life so that anything can be dropped if needed, and nothing and no one can be used against me as a weapon.
I suspect one of the reasons for this is that fictional worlds are fraught with peril. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be fun. In these worlds, people you care about die. Hundreds of people across dozens of lives. Everything is stripped from you, again and again, to put you through an arch of struggle which you can grow from as a character and leave you with a satisfying resolution. You begin to question the wisdom of growing close to anything, knowing it’ll be taken away.
And in the end, regardless of how pleasant the story and the fact that no one died and it was a wonderful fairy-tale ending… in the end, all your friends leave you anyway. Because you reached the last page, and that world ceased to exist. Every single book you pick up is another chance to grow connected, and then to have those people leave you and never return. Even a 20-novel series eventually has to end. Everyone dies.
It gets to the point where you have a hard time remembering people’s names in real life, or remember many personal details about them. Because in all the lives you’ve lived, the emotional lesson you’ve learned is that people are disposable. They will be with you for a time, and then they will leave, and you will pick up another book and replace them with someone else. If everyone is interchangeable, how do the little details matter?
Of course, this could all just be a way for me to excuse my rude treatment of others. I certainly don’t have trouble remembering the names of authors I like. It could be a way of avoiding going to therapy and dealing with a childhood of isolation. Maybe I should just consider that I might be depressed. Or maybe there are real effects to running many high-fidelity emotional-trauma simulations in your mind every year. Despite the title of this post, I think it’s not possible for human brains to not update on fictional evidence, at least to some degree. The more engaging and gripping stories are–the “better” they are–the harder it is for the emotional core of the brain not to update on them. After all, the whole point is to “be moved” emotionally in a way beyond one’s control.
That being said, the first chapters of my novel are now available, and more are coming each week. These things are self-perpetuating.