This post is going to be about the experience and power of reading, inspired by two books I’ve recently read/am reading. The first is Maggie Stiefvater’s, Mister Impossible, and the second is Daniel Howell’s, You Will Get Through This Night. They’re two incredibly different books: one’s YA fantasy and the other is a mental health guide, but I think it’s fascinating how, when you read two books close together, you’ll be able to find similarities because you bring your own perspectives to these books. I’m not going to do a comparative essay about these two books, I just want to write this post about the power of reading, how we each read for our own reasons, and how we see every book differently from others, even when reading exactly the same words.
This certainly isn’t a review. There was a very small period in my life, perhaps lasting a couple of months, where I decided I wanted to do film reviews, but it was something I quickly realised wasn’t for me. I do have strong opinions about films, anyone who knows me could probably tell you that, and whilst reviews are opinions in a lot of ways, reviewing is a strange and dangerous place. Opinions aren’t universal, but they are incredibly influential, and whilst I understand their importance, it’s not what this post is about.
I just find it fascinating how much power stories hold and how your own experiences alter your perception of books. The interpretable nature of stories and how they impact you is one of the reasons I want to be an author. Being able to evoke emotion with imagery, prose, anecdotes, just being able to evoke anything with words is such a dream of mine. I love that everyone brings their perspectives to stories and how this changes how they perceive them. The nature of interpretation, subtext, how people resonate with different elements is special and something each book offers in one way or another.
I’m an enormous fan of Maggie Stiefvater. I know I’ve said this isn’t going to be a review, and it isn’t, but I think her style is so distinct, and the content of her books is so fascinating and brain-breaking. The Raven King was one of the first books I couldn’t put down, one I kept reading until the sun came up and the morning birds were singing. Being able to read this Dreamer Trilogy has been such a joy, and waiting for the final book is going to be excruciating, but the world she has created is just fascinating, and it’s inspirational too. And the fact she’s said the dreamers are a metaphor for artists is just another reason that these stories resonate with me.
Then, when it comes to Dan’s book, it’s totally, entirely, completely different. I haven’t yet finished it, but it’s not necessarily the kind of book you read in one go or over a couple of days in the same way Mister Impossible is one of those books. It’s full of Dan’s tales of dealings with mental health as well as professional advice. Whilst I could read Mister Impossible in public, and did, this one’s definitely a more private affair. I’ve been a follower of Dan for so many years, and this is a very private, personal insight into a lot of his life, which is both a touch strange and deeply emotional.
These two books, as well as Chain of Iron by Cassandra Clare that came out a couple of months ago, have been ones I’ve read after really acknowledging that I want to be an author, and that’s why they’ve had such an impact, why these books have resonated with me specifically. And that’s part of the power of novels, right? How reading them at specific times in your life will bring about different reactions, and how we each pull something different from books because we’re looking for something different.
The experience I get from reading Mister Impossible is going to differ to everyone else’s. There may be overlap, that’s almost guaranteed given we’re all reading the same words, but what you take away from reading is going to be different based on your experiences, based on what you want to take away. That’s one of the most amazing things about writing, about novels. The power to write something that makes people feel something, and how that can be different from person to person, that’s really what art is about. When I read these two books, what resonates with me is the conversations about art, how people are inclined to self-destruct, the intricacies of relationships, as well as admiration for the authors themselves. These aren’t always the elements I’m looking for when I read something, but they’re what stood out to me this time because it is my personal perspective at this point in time that makes them stand out. And this is the case for everyone; whatever we’re looking for, whatever experiences and perspectives we hold, whatever interests us, this follows us into the novels we read, alters our interpretations, and it affects what each book means to us.
Books are written to respond to, they’re there to take from. I’m going to do another post eventually about my favourite genres and how, in actuality, I’m a very fussy reader (which is not the best trait of an author), but what I’m reminded of each time I find a book that does move me in some way is how powerful this medium of storytelling is. These were just two books that continued to solidify that this is the career that I want, that, like these books, I want to be able to make people feel something too. I want to write stories that allow people to add their own experiences and take what they need from what is written.
Whilst you can write with specific messages in your mind, with specific intent, that doesn’t mean those messages are exactly what people are going to receive, what they’ll take from the story. And that’s a positive thing. I know some authors find that frustrating because they want to cater a very specific experience for their readers, but that isn’t what stories are about. They’re about interpretation, they’re about being passed around and letting people pull what they need from what’s written.
Obviously, as per everything I’ve written so far on this site, it’s about balance. If you’ve written a story, it’s still pretty pleasant to see people interpreting things the way you’ve intended for them to be interpreted and it’s not ideal for people to spin things in a negative way if you didn’t intend for that, but I think people pulling different messages, for the most part, is positive. It demonstrates how different people’s perspectives are and how one story has the potential to mean something different for every reader.
But another point I want to make is that not every book will make you respond. I am a fussy reader, I will admit to that, but it’s also entirely valid to pick up a book people are responding to and not have the same reaction. It is a powerful medium, but you certainly have to find the right books for you. There are books out there for everyone, I wholeheartedly believe that, it’s such an enormous market so there will be stories out there that make you feel this unique power, but not every single one will. Sometimes, you’ll go into a book expecting one thing and then receive something entirely different and, sometimes, that might mean that you don’t feel anything at all.
But just because one book doesn’t make you respond, that doesn’t necessarily mean that that book is bad, it just means that it isn’t one that’s meant for you. We are natural storytellers, I think it is in most people’s nature to tell stories or to want to be told stories. If one book doesn’t make you respond, I guarantee there are others that will give you what you are looking for. There are hundreds of genres, thousands of experiences, millions of characters and voices that are offering the possibility of resonating with you. Reading offers a powerful experience, and I don’t think any of us would be quite the same without these stories.
So I can only encourage everyone to read. I know some people find it difficult, so perhaps, instead, I wish to encourage everyone to engage with stories, to notice how storytelling is built, not specifically for you, but for you to react to, for you to bring your own experiences and perspectives, and to pull messages from what is presented before you. Also, I think it’s important to notice how this differs to those around you, consider why you react a certain way and what it is that affects your response because, when you do that, I think it can teach you about your perspective and who you are and why certain stories affect you in certain ways.
If words aren’t your thing, there’s manga and comics that utilise the power of image. Even then, the mediums are different, but if that’s not your thing either, movies and shows will do the same. Audiobooks, podcasts, video games, RPGs, there are so many different ways that people tell stories. I am an advocate for reading, and I really do believe there are books out there for everyone, but I just think we are storytellers and we want to be told stories, and all these mediums we have for that purpose are so indicative of this. So read, or engage with stories however you feel most comfortable, interpret them, pull from them, and know that that is exactly what stories are meant for.