Feb 10 2009
I’ve come to view the author / reader relationship as a dance of sorts, an epic journey with two partners who depend upon each other for success. The reader places her trust in the author that the experience of reading the book will be a positive one. This is true whether the book is a romance with its guaranteed happy ending or a mystery wherein the detective solves a crime or a lit fic book relating a story of loss. A positive experience (as opposed to a happy one) is one that keeps us going back to hobby of reading. Truly, if an experience is continually negative, we’d never continue the experience.
As a reader, I’m faced with a number of choices of books, each one beckoning in their own way. They stand aligned, represented by their author, awaiting a reader’s selection. Some of the authors have written books I’ve read before. I’m comfortable with them. I recognize that I will get a certain emotional release through my journey with them. Others I’ve heard good things about but haven’t tried myself. Others I’m curious about because of the outfit they are wearing. Still others turn me away because of negative associations or perhaps I am not attracted to their style.
I choose an author and her journey by placing my hand in hers and she leads me down the path, a dark and unknown place. From there, I don’t always know what direction it will take. In reading a romance, I know that the ending is intended to be joyful but it isn’t always fulfilling because of the journey.
We walk, as she tells me the story. Sometimes she takes me to a clearing full of laughter, wry humor or sharp wit. Sometimes she takes me to a darker wood where the emotional pain of the characters brings me to tears. There are dozens of different stops along the way that the author exposes me to and invites me to partake.
With some authors, authors that I’ve established a long history of trust because I’ve taken a journey with them before, I’ll let them lead me anywhere. These authors have earned the right to take me places I would not ordinarily go willingly.
With authors that are new to me, or ones with whom our past journey has been rocky, I’m apprehensive. I walk gingerly and I’ve been known to drop their hand and walk back to the entrance, not wanting to return.
Some authors have led me down paths that I bitterly regret. I regret the time spent with them. I regret that subsequent journeys ruined past joy I experienced with them. These are authors that I stay away from.
Some authors have taken me down a journey that I love so much that I run from the exit to the entrance to start it all over again. If I see readers standing around at the front, I’ll run over to them and direct them to this awesome journey. Sometimes I’ll even pay their entrance fee.
Readers come to these journeys, already formed by past experiences and armed with a life of knowledge. Each journey with an author is different and that’s exactly the reason why I read but understanding how the reader develops trust with an author over the course of a reading relationship can help to explain some reader reaction; both the love and the hate, the joy and the anger; the surprise and the disappointment.
Reading is an intimate endeavor. It can touch us at a very deep level, bringing out beliefs and opinions and feeling simmering below the surface. Reading can make us attached to an author’s voice, her way of storytelling beyond just becoming invested in a book or liking the characters. In some ways, the reader and the author become one person as the reader begins to experience the life of the characters through the author’s eyes. It’s not the author as a person, though; it’s the author as the author, as the voice of the book. The author is the director, producer, screenwriter, and actor all at once. The reader, though, interprets the voice of the author through their own personal filters. Together, I suppose, it’s a complicated pas de duex.
For the readers and authors out there, how do you envision the relationship? Do you, as a reader, trust authors, genres, or plot lines without qualification? Do you want to experiment with new partnerships or do you stick with what works because of the security of the payoff? What do you think you are looking for when reading? As authors, are you trying to recreate a fresh new experience but with the same themes, the same journey? Do you want to take readers a new place every single time? Do you think about a reader’s experience or does interfere with your ability to tell a story effectively?