This, Too, Is the Reader I Write For

People say that food is the good girl’s drug. But now I realize it was just one particularly cheap and sticky strain of my real drug of choice: distraction.

When I was a little kid, it just meant that I was daydreamy, or imaginative, running around performing whole musicals and movie scenes for the cat. When I grew up into a voracious reader, then great! Who would discourage a twelve-year-old from rereading The Catcher in the Rye? In high school, I was a devoted theater student, and in college I was serious about film study.

All that was true. Then there’s the truer version.

I wasn’t just rereading The Catcher in the Rye. I was rereading everything, constantly: in the car on the way to school, at recess, waiting for Karen to pick me up, and then all the way home. … Those teenaged nights I spent alone in my dorm singing along to CDs weren’t just about musical appreciation. They were about not being there, not being me. I was long gone, deep in my head, buried in the drama of “Someone Else’s Story” (from the original Broadway cast recording of Chess).

Kelsey Miller, Big Girl, pp. 210 – 211

So, guys, this was absolutely me when I was a kid as well, minus the musical talent. I can identify with wanting to immerse yourself in someone else’s story … and I don’t think it’s always a bad thing. Especially for kids, it’s a way to quickly learn a lot about the world. And, frankly, I can’t imagine anyone becoming a voracious reader without this hunger. I strive to make my books an immersive experience for the reader. Surely, without that, reading would be boring?

I do understand that reading can be used as form of escapism. In Miller’s case, her distraction addiction was so extreme that she realized it was becoming a major obstacle to her personal growth. After discovering mindful eating, she began to train herself in mindful walking to the subway without a podcast, and in mindful being in her apartment without the TV on every second. I get that.

But I have two things to say about books as a distraction.

One, sometimes we do need to escape from our troubles. This is true especially when we are kids and have few other outlets or coping mechanisms, but also at other times when we need to rest and re-group. I am reminded of a (possibly apocryphal?) Internet quote about how the author has a responsibility to entertain because readers are people sitting on busses and in hospital waiting rooms.

Secondly. The engrossing book that is an escape from reality, can also be a secret tunnel back into reality. You can “escape” into C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, or his Space Trilogy, but you will come out the other side with a renewed desire to face your own fears and responsibilities. And if you don’t actually emerge with the hope that there is an Aslan who could help you in this process, you will certainly, fervently wish there was one … which, as Lewis would say, is the first stage in Joy.

That’s what I hope my books will be. An immersive, entertaining experience that, while you’re not looking, also opens your eyes to aspects of the world that you had not considered before.

What do you guys think? Is it always wrong to use books and other media as escapism? Do kids have more leeway to do this than adults? At what point does voracious reading become pathological? And who gets to say?

8 thoughts on “This, Too, Is the Reader I Write For

  1. I’ve always considered books to be entertainment. A step up from movies or screen games, but still entertainment. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. It’s just like everything else. If it gets out of control then it becomes a problem. And since what constitutes a problem is going to depend on the person, I think it’s up to each person and their family to deal with it. And then get help if it becomes a serious problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I agree. I don’t think anyone else can make the call, pre-emptively, about what is an ideal amount of time to spend reading. Granted, the individual will usually only notice that it’s a vice after it’s been a problem for some time, but they are still the only one who can make the call.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm, so you find escapism boring? For me, if something is boring, it’s not doing a very good job of helping me escape.

      I don’t think escapist necessarily means idealistic or pleasant. Miller was “escaping” into Catcher in the Rye, which is notoriously depressing. And people will “escape” into thrillers, true crime, even horror. Go figure.

      You are certainly right that not every genre is for everyone. But I would argue that all the popular genres are, in fact, escapist for the readers who buy them.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Like

      1. I suspect the word escapism is being abused here. Escapism is like a dance sequence in the Lawrence Welk show. There are fictions like that. ALL power fantasies, for example. Catcher in the Rye is not escapist fiction. You can technically escape into any book, but by that definition, everything is escapism, which makes the term meaningless. I can read Jane Eyre to feel less lonely- escape loneliness if you will, but that doesn’t make it escapist fiction.

        Thanks for your response. I always like interacting with people here on WordPress.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah, I see what you mean. I wasn’t addressing escapism so much as a descriptor of a certain kind of fiction, rather as an approach taken by the reader. That’s why I only used the term once, and used synonyms like “distraction,” “immersion,” etc.

    Good talking with you too. Don’t be a stranger.

    Like

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