When reading books we all go through a wide range of emotions. What and how we feel depends a lot on the type of books we read. When we read a thriller, this can open up a lot of differing feelings, however the primary element will be an increase in our heart rate due to excitement or tension, brought on my sudden events which cause abrupt changes. From this we can feel fear, a surge of adrenaline, or even simply being more aggressive within ourselves. For example if the primary character in a novel is someone we identify with, a good person perhaps fighting off some kind of evil or criminal actions, we can feel their aggression, their determination to succeed, and if and when this happens, we feel a sense of elation or joy. If we identify with a character that is evil, or carries out criminal acts and gets away with it, then we may feel an oddly similar kind of joy over this, or satisfaction borne of their odd success. I say satisfaction, because through books and our imagination we allow ourselves to act out that lead character, and do things with might never otherwise do in life.
A comedy can be different, in that we stand back, mentally, to look at the actions of people in the novel, and the things that happen to them. It is like watching something funny in real life, where perhaps something slapstick happens, like a cake to the face. We wouldn’t usually want to identify with that character, we don’t want to be the point of the joke, but we’re often happy to see others in that predicament. Still we feel emotions, humour tickles us, we smile and feel good, and are driven along, coupled with our imagination. There can still be other elements of emotion in what we feel when we read something like that, but our goal is to laugh, which tends to be why we might choose such a novel, knowing it is going to make us laugh.
Other novels, such as simple action novels, perhaps based on war or fighting, maybe makes us feel brave, allows us to imagine ourselves in situations of drama and risk without actually risking our lives or safety. From this we do still feel a sense of fear, but overwhelmingly we feel satisfaction when the primary protagonist succeeds in their work, no matter what it costs them.
Some novels make us cry, they expose us to emotions that we may otherwise shy away from, mainly because with a book we can close it, and go do something else, or interact with others in our lives. From this we have a reminder of how good our lives can be, as well as a peek into a world where others might suffer, another reminder of how life could be. We gain satisfaction in another way, a kind of schadenfreude, where others might suffer, and perhaps we might enjoy it, feeling better about ourselves without going through it first. That may sound negative, nasty even, but it is an element of human nature.
That then is perhaps what is most powerful about reading books, that they allow us to step into another person’s shoes, but to also experience everything they do and say, without cost, remorse or recriminations. We are a fly on the wall, a ghost sliding through the corridors of life, enjoying all the rampaging energy, the life, creation and destruction that writers expose us to. They are a doorway to everything else we can imagine, but don’t want to experience, and most of all they provide us with a route to a series of experiences from which we draw a full range of emotional experiences, all without cost. Why without cost? Because when we have had enough, for that day or that moment, we can close the book, and go back to our safe, normal lives.
Thank goodness for writers, for creators, and thank goodness for books.
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