What is it about books that makes so many of us humans experience an enormous range of emotions based on a mere combination of ink and dead trees?
I have encountered in equal measures people who swear they could not live without books and people who don’t understand what the big deal is. Both sorts exist, so what is it that really separates them from each other?
Some people ask, why spend half a day on a book when you could extract the same enjoyment with less effort from a two hour movie? My answer to them is that reading the book and taking the time, involves drinking in far more detail and the length of time allows your emotions to fully expand. The time spent on a book really brings those characters to life. Oftentimes, the fan base behind a book is far more passionate than the fanbase behind a movie. Just compare Avatar’s fans (a movie I happen to really like) with the fans of the Eragon books (the movie for the first book is basically ignorable). They enjoyed the movie, wrote rave reviews, told their family about it…. and promptly forgot about it a year later. Many fans of epic book series’ such as Eragon, read it obsessively, tell all their friends about it and then re-read it again a few years later. Why? I have two answers.
First, book fans are more enthusiastic. After spending an enormous length of time on the activity of carefully reading each word of a 400 page novel, a person feels personally invested in the book. They have a stronger desire to see it’s success.
Second, the level of detail found in the pages of most books evokes element of what makes us human; emotions. When I read a well-written novel I find myself legitimately happy for the characters’ successes and filled with dread when the scene indicates no chance for a cheerful ending. It’s only ink on a page, but it creates very real mental images and somehow wrings emotion out of the reader. Sure, we experience those emotions in the real world as well, but within the safe parameters of a story that one can remind oneself is fiction, those emotions are more comfortable. Books provide the safety of not being real that allows an avid reader to throw him- or herself into the fictional world entirely and feel the elation of those emotions, but then return to a world where none of it has happened and the world is still a secure place.
Therefore, what it comes down to for me is that books provide an escape. What about books is it that keeps you spending hours turning pages?