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Falling in love and wishing I hadn’t…

There are some books I can’t read. Not because I don’t want to. Simply because I can’t.

I realize this doesn’t make any sense. I have a world of words and my fingertips. Any book I want, I can hunt out, even if it takes me years. I’ll find it, from the Prose Eddas to The Revenge of Magic or the latest Cornelia Funke book yet to be translated to English.

But out of those thousands of millions of wonderful words, there are some books I just can’t read.

Game of Thrones. Buttercup’s Baby (Yup, the sequel to Princess Bride you didn’t realize existed). Thieves’ World. King of Scars, Amanda-Miranda (started all these and gave up). The Wise Man’s Fear (for the moment. Somebody hand me any form of chocolate to drown my tears in please).

Same idea with TV series–Game of Thrones again, Carnival Row, The Witcher. Super awesome worldbuilding and gorgeous sets, huge fandoms ready to embrace reenactments and nerd cons.

I want to hear their stories. I want to plunge headfirst into their worlds. I want to see them shake the reality I know into confetti and then magic it back into stone.

Just can’t.

I’ve thought a lot about this. And I keep coming back to what someone who knows me well said:

As close as I can remember it (she’s forgotten this occasion herself by now), “I don’t think you actually read books. It’s like you live them as the character and feel what they feel.”

It was one of those horrible moments when she didn’t realize just how right about me she was.

I read once that when you watch someone do something, your brain is making the same synaptic connections as if you were doing the action yourself–essentially, your brain knows how. And the only thing barring you from doing it is teaching your muscles to make the motions.

I think the same thing happens with books.

For whatever reason (a Quixote-style book overdose, hazards of being a writer, just inborn personality), there’s no division for me when I’m reading between reality and what’s on the page. As long as I’m in the story, that’s what’s real. Westley, Buttercup, Kvothe, Auri, Elodin, fairies, goblins, monsters, warriors, humans–doesn’t make a smidgen of difference. That’s what’s real. And I’m there with them, climbing Mount Doom to chuck a ring of power into lava, feeling the sting of a broken lute string across my hand.

It’s not just being there, watching them. It’s slipping inside their skin and looking out through their eyes.

Everything they feel, I feel. I’m there.

So if something wonderful happens, Runaway King style snark, I’m elated. On top of the world. I’ve felt the glory of a faerie feast and heard the rhythm of pounding drums. I’ve gone and seen so many beautiful things. If I close my eyes right now, I can still imagine the Hall of Fire in Elrond’s house, when we readers of the Fellowship see Arwen look at Aragorn for the first time. It’s all there.

But with every story, there are terrible things too.

Most of the time, I don’t mind them. The horrible plague-infested world of Avi’s Crispin? Not a problem. Fighting orcs with Samwise Gamgee? My afternoon is clear. Even living three years in Tarbean with Kvothe, slowly feeling as if you’re going insane? I’m there until the end. The very end.

But there are some points that even my loyalty breaks. Sometimes there are things I just can’t take.

I can’t keep watching through the eyes of a character during rape. I can’t sit there and watch as they walk down a road that’s going to lead to a horrible fate. I can’t listen to other characters curse them with a thousand deaths. I’m there. I can’t just observe.

Nobody who stood in those shoes would.

I know as well as any writer that hard, sad stories can’t be ignored. I struggle with the balance of it every time I write.

But I wonder if other writers would be as eager to shock and dramatize things no one should experience if they knew there was someone out there like me. Would they look me in the eye and wish me to feel everything their characters did?

Reading isn’t living. It isn’t close to the same. But once I’ve seen things, abuse, curses, betrayal, something shatters inside me every time. Maybe it’s because every time I read a good book, I fall a little bit in love.

And I’ve also been blessed (or cursed) with a needle-sharp memory. When it comes to stories, especially book-trauma, I never forget.

I can’t forget. It’s there forever.

And if I fall head over heels for the book?

It’s worse.

I can eventually forget some things about characters I didn’t fall in love with. It’s different when they’re more than real. When they’re better than anything I could have dreamed.

That’s why I won’t read the big names like Game of Thrones. Not because I think it’s worthless and I won’t like it. It’s because I know I probably will–and after rumors I’ve heard, that’s even scarier.

There are short stories I read over a year ago I still can’t think about without hurting. Stories I didn’t even really like. Once I stumbled out of reading something, suddenly hugged a loved one, and started sobbing on a shoulder. No explanation. Other times, it’s like trying to end an abusive relationship–still love him, but you know it’s never ever going to work out, so it’s probably better you don’t try. Pass around the cold pizza and hand out the fluffy socks. Let’s watch a super violent movie with nonexistent character arcs and forget the world exists. Tomorrow will be another day and we can believe in love then. Not now.

I have no idea if anyone else reads like this, the way I do. But from little hints and guesses, things people answer, things I say that stick out in conversation like an eggplant in a field of strawberries…

I begin to think it’s just me.

Maybe that’s for the best.

Elinor in Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart once said that books “love anyone who opens them.” It’s not true. Books bite.

So I’ve gotten to be a bit like Inkheart’s Dustfinger. I’ve gotten very careful to guard my silly writer’s heart.

I’ve learned a time or two what it feels like when it breaks.


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