A World of Speculation

More thoughts on my most recent post about entering fictional worlds.

When I — and probably a lot of people — am reading a book and not in the story’s world, I’m evaluating. It might be grammar, story structure, character, whether the “facts” of the story are believable, whatever. The critical sense is antithetical to the dream state. And when new writers show somebody their story, they sometimes get critiqued on a lot of things that wouldn’t be noticed if the reader had been in the story world. And it’s not so much that the noted critiques are wrong, but if the new writer were to fix all these little critiques without addressing the world problem, then the next read will bring more of the same level of critiques, often telling the writer to change back the things he just fixed. If the story works, the critiquer wakes from the dream after some block of pages and says, “Oh, that’s right. I’m supposed to be critiquing this.”

But one reader’s dream state is another’s crock of mush. Although many of the Da Vinci Code’s kajillion readers experienced that dream state, my memory of that book is white pages wrapped by a red cover. Ho hum. My memory of A Suitable Boy is sprawling Indian landscapes, Hindu festivals, the Ganges River, a Mumbay cemetery in the rain. Yes, also words on a page, but clear memories of things I’ve seen only through those pages.

At the same time, take a writer like Umberto Eco. I love his books. I love his writing. And though I often lose myself in the world, frequently, he kicks me out with a sentence that makes me want to walk around the block and think about how the world is organized. I had to start marking the text of Baudolino with referents to his thoughts about the nature of truth and lies, what’s real, and the “reality” of story. Eco reminds me that I’m “reading a book,” and I don’t mind it. It’s part of what I enjoy about him.

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