“And that’s why books are never going to die. It’s impossible. It’s the only time we really go into the mind of a stranger, and we find our common humanity doing this. So the book doesn’t only belong to the writer, it belongs to the reader as well, and then together you make it what it is.” ― Paul Auster
A good book has the seemingly magical ability to continue to be read long after it is put down, the concepts if not the exact words can stay with the reader and continue the process of understanding or sharply disagreeing with the author. In any discussion or commentary of a book the endless variety of takes on the same printed words leaves no doubt that the relationship the reader develops with the book and in the case of fiction, its characters, colors the perception with a different hue for each one.
A writer uses fiction to take a notion, examine it, turn it inside out, develop it into something else altogether; then puts it out there with the faith that it will resonate and connect them to others. The reader then discovers, “ah there is someone else who has had that same thought” or “I never really considered that before”. A good writer knows how to draw out the reader’s thoughts in the same way they draw out their own. The best books cause one to stop in the middle of their day and ponder some morsel that has stayed with them; re-tasting the sweetness or bitterness of the bit that has lingered. Other times the characters of the book are so thoroughly drawn that one feels as though they have lost a dear friend when the book is done. And to reread it immediately gives no satisfaction, when what we want to know is what happens next to this new dear friend of ours.
Non-fiction educates, and carefully read, may also contribute to the introspection that leads to better understanding of oneself and the greater world. The best non-fiction has an “ah-ha” moment, whether it is the kernel of truth in a business instructional, or the instant recognition in a self-help manual. And that moment of recognition or inspiration can set the wheels turning in an endless progression of related thoughts and actions. Often when one picks up a non-fiction book it is with the expectation that there will be the answer to some specific question, some detailed diagram or recipe to solve the problem at hand. But it is often the aside, the personal example, the slight digression that captures the imagination and begins the process of taking the information and making it ones own.
As a reader our only obligation is to ourselves and our inner world. We can choose stories that capture our imagination, tales that take us to destinations and cultures we may never otherwise know. Book in hand we become an explorer and our experiences as rich and varied as our numbers.