We love books. Before we had books, we loved stories. Storytelling made us into the humans we are now, so this devotion is absolutely justified. Yet there is something more to it. Sometimes we take this adoration over the top. We hoard books, we suffer from “book hangovers”, fall in love with favorite characters and spend our food money to buy some more precious hardbacks. Have you ever wondered why? Well, I hope I can clear that up for at least three relatable things every book lover experiences at least once.
#1 Raise your hand, those of you who had a crush on a fictional character at least once. I thought as much. Why? For many reasons, here are a few:
i) A lot of fictional characters are written to be the perfect romantic interests (starting from fair maidens and knights in shining armor of Medieval literature and ending with Arwen Undomiel and Edward Cullen). They are all you want to see in your significant other and no compromises needed. They are designed to make you hooked, just like that catchy tune on the radio.
ii) We can get inside of their heads and it makes us feel very sympathetic to them. We understand their feelings and motivations; hence, we often see the beauty that usually is hidden from our sight in real human beings. With real people, we have to spend years trying and make some painful and embarrassing mistakes. With fictional characters, all it takes is several pages.
iii) We go through some really exciting and tough stuff with fictional characters, as we read about their hardships and adventures, ups and downs. After all, nothing brings people close together more that shared experience, especially if they go through hard times. That is why college friendships and war camaraderie is forever! That is also why we grow so fond of fictional characters and see them as our friends. We were there when they had to make terribly difficult decisions, when they experienced loss. Sometimes it feels that we lived the entire life together with them. That makes for a deep emotional connection. One-sided, alas.
iv) If there are blanks in fictional character’s personality, we tend to fill them in with qualities that we want to see or can relate to. They are partly our own creation, and as such dear to us. Not to mention that we would not imagine them to possess flaws we would not be able to put up with – no nail-biting, no bad breath, no inappropriate jokes, thank you.
v) Finally, even if they are not written to be quite perfect, we can just ignore the stuff we do not like. That explains the phenomenon of a magnetic “bad guy/gal”. Yes, (s)he acts like a jerk but (s)he won’t be like that with me (you bet (s)he won’t, it’s a FICTIONAL CHARACTER).
#2 Your craving for books is so strong that you cannot stop. Your compulsive book hauls are leaving you broke. Nevertheless, you are thinking of moving to a bigger apartment you obviously cannot afford because you need more walls to put shelves on. Sounds familiar? You are not alone. Bibliophiles all over the world understand you. In fact, the very word bibliophile implies that you have a thing for paper books as objects d’art – not only for the stories inside of them.
Indeed, books are fascinating – their textures, unique smell, beautiful covers, rare editions, marginal notes telling stories of people who previously owned the book. It is easy to fall in love with all this. Still, why some people are more prone to succumb to this charm?
i) It just might be the case. Often people hoard something specific, which with a bibliophile happens to be books. Do not confuse it with collecting, though. Collections are orderly and systemized. Collectors take pride in the items assembled and budget time and money in order to acquire something specific. They are very selective – collect first editions, classic novels in the original language, books of a specific period or of some peculiar quality. Beautiful hardbacks are neatly arranged for display. Hoarders do not discriminate; they do not miss a bargain and find pleasure in purchasing more books, whatever they are. They cannot part with a book even if it’s a pulp they bought to kill three hours on a bus trip and never plan to read it again. If you are afraid to be buried one day under piles of books sitting around your house and waiting to be read, you are probably a hoarder.
ii) The case of book FOMO. You just cannot stand the thought that you might be missing something worthy. You buy the newest books because, hey, that might be the next Harry Potter, and you want to be the first to have your opinion – before it becomes cool. However, reading all available books today is as futile endeavor as trying to watch YouTube to the last cat video or download the entire internet. Instead, try checking the “Latest” shelf at your local library. Order literature review to learn what is worth your attention at all or subscribe to literary magazines to refine your taste and find what you really like.
iii) You buy books as a surrogate of reading them. You do not have time to read, yet checking the book out at the counter and bringing it home feels almost as good as reading? I feel your pain. Here is a challenge for you, fellow bookaholic. Do not buy another book until you have read at least two of those you already own. Also, becoming a digital reader might help. Having your entire library always with gives you an opportunity to steal 15 minutes here and there for reading. I switched to e-books whey I had to travel a lot. The books I needed to keep me entertained during a journey were too bulky and heavy, so I invested in an e-book reader and it made a huge difference.
#3 Every booklover knows that reading a book is a “Do not disturb” sign for people around. I wish people sitting next to me on trains and buses would understand that. I am sure you too often wondered why people would not leave you alone when you are all wrapped up in an immersive book. However, they are neither inconsiderate nor stupid. It’s just that some people do not like reading (gasp!) They just think that you must be bored and have resorted to a book as the last means to entertain yourself. They are glad to offer you their company as a happy alternative.
It also can be that they do like reading but being extroverted themselves, they might think that a good chat is always more interesting. After all, that book isn’t going anywhere, right? You can save it for later and read when there’s no one around to have a conversation with you. People are actually being kind and friendly. Although we might see it in reverse.
Ironically, writers are not always as ready to turn their backs to people, as avid readers. After all, to create compelling characters, they must be connoisseurs of human nature. They must be genuinely interested in people. For example, writer and painter Henry Miller’s advises in one of his 11 commandments of writing, “Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.” So, if you are harboring a hope of becoming an author yourself someday, maybe you should lay that book down and have a chat with a nice extravert person that is genuinely interested in you. Who knows, maybe they are going to be your real-life crush (or at least a protagonist of your first book).
This article was written by Linda Cartwright, a Seattle-based educator and a freelance writer collaborating on educational projects like PaperHelp. She is also an avid reader and an aspiring author currently working on her first book.