Living Vicariously Through Books

Sometimes, just because something never happened doesn’t mean it wasn’t real. Even if the persons in a book are fictional, they may live just as real lives as the rest of us. When we read books, we accept the stories as our own. Though we can learn from experience, we learn from others’ experiences too. Books gives us those foreign experiences like memories implanted into our brains overnight. We share emotions: terror, joy, grief, fear. Characters live through traumatic lows and ecstatic highs, and we experience some of these things– many of which we will never be able to experience.

Here is a quote from George R.R. Martin’s newest addition to the Song of Ice and Fire Series:

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one.”

It is an interesting concept, that by reading we see lives we may have never before seen. There are obvious examples of this such as fighting dragons and driving spacecrafts through asteroid fields. We have neither magic or the technology required for casual space travel, so some of the things we experience are in fact impossible.

Otherwise, we might experience something we could hypothetically do but choose not to. Murder, for example, is not something many people readily admit to having on their bucket list. Fiction about gruesome killings, psychotic serial killers, and the hardened detectives that track them down sell extremely well because people are fascinated by these things. While they may not want to kill anyone, perhaps they want to imagine how it would feel. Books offer that possibility.

Not long ago I blogged about books concerning madness and drugs and their links. Well, not every person will readily try drugs, but sure, there is a fascination with what drugs will do to a person. What madness might do. Books offer people the choice to delve into the gritty regions of life they dare not go within the confines of their personal reality; in books, however, we can live life without regrets.

Writers as well as readers live through their stories. I once went to see Sue Monk Kidd (author of The Secret Life of Bees) talk at USCA. During the talk, she mentioned a book she had written  (The Mermaid Chair) about a middle-aged woman who had a secret relationship with a priest. She mentioned that as a writer she could live in a book as she never could in real life. I feel exactly the same way sometimes.

If you have been reading this blog a long time, you will know that I wrote another novel (several, actually) before the one I’m working on now. I scrapped it because it wasn’t selling; agents and publishers found it too gory, too long, and too complicated. It was about a serial killer named Sebastian Martinelli, and I wrote it because I was immensely interested in the Psychotic mind. Check out my newest project, and you’ll find the subject material is a bit closer to my heart. But even in that, I get to write from perspectives I’ve never had.

Also, I’m not all too worried about starting over. I’ll blog about that decision another day. It became very difficult to let something go I felt wasn’t good enough to be my first published full-volume novel. That agents and publishers obviously didn’t feel was good, either. So of course I am going to try again because I want to do better.

Whether it is as simple as writing from a female POV or writing from the POV of a heroin addict, we experience many different things when we write. We lend these stories to the people who read them. Who feel bullets tear through their flesh, feel the pain of a friend’s death, who feel triumphant when good trumps evil.

How do you feel about books? Do you think those who do read books live more fulfilling lives than those who don’t? Or are we just pale recluse losers?

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About Derek Berry

Derek Berry is a novelist and spoken word poet. Derek is the author of Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA Publishing, 2016). He co-founded and organizes The Unspoken Word, a literary non-profit based out of Charleston, SC, which provides an intendent home for the poetic arts through regular readings, workshops, and community fundraisers. He is on the Executive Board of the Charleston Poetry Festival, the inaugural production of which will be Fall 2017. His work has appeared in The Southern Tablet, Cattywampus, Charleston Currents, Illuminations, RiverSedge, and other journals.He has performed in venues across the United States and Germany. He has worked as a photographer’s assistant, busboy, and bookseller. He currently works at a curation facility for Cold War History.

Posted on July 15, 2012, in books, Characters, novel, writer, Writing, writing advice and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. How do you feel about books?
    for me it depends on what I’m reading. since you’re having novels in mind I will not mention reading other books. well, for me reading novels has some aesthetic aspects: dipping deep into the mood, and so on. i.e., there are authors like E.T.A. Hoffmann, Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Edgar Alan Poe, Arthur Schnitzler and the like which I read just for enjoyment.
    but somehow the most important reason is the confrontation and transmitting into real life. there is the German novel “Schön hausen” by Peter Brasch. he was addicted to alcohol. and it was said he wrote himself out of his addiction with this novel. that interested me. and it is a great novel. unfortunately he fell back… then how did I got to read Dostokewski? it was because a friend of mine told me, that it changed the direction of his life. I think within one or two years I read the whole Dostojewski. 😀 it’s the same with Huysmans, Beckett, de Sade, and so on. it’s the confrontation I’m looking for.

    Do you think those who do read books live more fulfilling lives than those who don’t?
    well, this is I call the sound of arrogation! 😀 I’d say those who desire reading books and do so will be satisfied, when they got to read what they are looking for. maybe others don’t have the need for reading books. this is what is the case with me at the moment. there were a time when I devoured novels, novels, novels. at the moment I’m interested into other stuff. and I’m fine with it, though I’m looking forward to come to read novels again.

    Or are we just pale recluse losers?
    taking into consideration and account my answer to your first question: no! 🙂

  2. Losers? That’s harsh
    I think people look at it as entertainment
    A form os escape
    Nothing more

  1. Pingback: The Joy Of Vulgarity « Word Salad

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