I am a reader. I can state that with certainty and my head held high. (When I say I am a writer I want to whisper it cowering under the table with my face hiding behind my hair.) I don’t ever remember not reading. I sit in line at the grocery store and read on my iPhone. I make dinner turning pages on my Kindle with gloopy fingers. I leave books on the towel rack, driving my husband insane. My bedside is piled with books and my decor can only be described as mid-century modern library eclectic. I am a reader.
When I was young I had a book I loved: Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. Did you read it? If not, stop now if you don’t want the ending ruined. Still with me? Remember it’s about two dogs and at the end the dogs die. Well, I loved that book. I would hide under the covers with my flashlight and I would read that book over and over, and each time I got to the end the same thing would happen. I would sob loud shuddering snot producing sobs. I’d blow my nose and the words would get blurry through my tears and on I would read. My mom would come into my room and look at me and shake her head when she saw I was “reading that book again.” I love a book that produces unabashed sobbing. That and apocalyptic fiction are my favorite genres.
So this week I found a new favorite sob-inducing book. Have you read A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness? If not, spoiler alert again, although you could see the ending coming from the beginning. It’s about a little boy and his mom has cancer and his dad left them and his grandma is terrible and he’s being bullied at school and he gets visited by a monster. Yeah, sounds amazing right? The perfect beach read. Who wouldn’t want to read such an uplifting tale? Monday night I’m reading in bed and I saw the ending coming. The mom was going to die. The tears started flowing down my cheeks as I leaned forward to get closer to the book propped on my knees. The illustrations were magic and the story was a roller coaster that ended in broken track. I was all set to let forth a torrent of loud gasping sobs, but I held back. See, I share my bed now with this guy who tends to look at me like I’m contagious when I cry. I kept reading and breathing in hitches and the book kept getting better and sadder and then Mr. Afthead turned to look at me and said something. I have no idea what he uttered because as soon as I was caught the dam burst. Oh, and there were still glorious pages left. I cried and read and blew my nose and cried and finished the book while my husband looked at me with my mom’s “that book again” look. The minute I read the last word I wanted to turn to the beginning and start all over.
How do these author’s do it? How do they generate that kind of emotion through words? I don’t like dogs. I tolerate dogs. I have met dogs I like, but dogs as a whole? They are kind of smelly needy garden ruiners. Yet somehow I read Where the Red Fern Grows and I am a wreck. I don’t have a son. I am not a son. I did not have a mom die of cancer when I was young and my dad never left me. I have no frame of reference for A Monster Calls but the author can wring my heart out through my eyes with his story. It is amazing that a writer can have that kind of power over a reader. I love it.
In Stephen King’s On Writing he says that writing is telepathy and I believe it. How else do you take a situation for which a reader has no personal frame of reference and impact their emotions? In my secret dark under the table dreams I hope someday I can become a sender of such messages and not just a receiver.