What Books Can Do That Other Entertainment Mediums Can’t – A Ramble

Well, since I seem to have read more within the past month than I did in the entire year before, I thought that I’d offer some random thoughts about books. In particular, I thought that I’d talk about something that suddenly occurred to me whilst I was reading the thriller novel I reviewed yesterday.

Unlike literally any other entertainment medium, books are an intimate and collaborative medium. It is literally just you and the author. They provide a description of their most interesting daydreams, and you have to use your own imagination to turn this into something you’ll enjoy. It’s like spending time with an old friend, or an interesting stranger. No two meetings are exactly alike. Every meeting between an author’s words and a new reader will be very slightly different.

Not only that, both of you control the pace at which the story travels. The author can write in a way that is meant to be read quickly or slowly, but it is the reader who determines how long the story takes to read. Whether a book is read in short instalments or explored in long deep dives up to the reader. Unlike films, books don’t have running times, because it’s up to the author and each individual reader to determine the “running time” themselves.

Unlike every other entertainment medium, a book is a bit like the Vulcan mind meld from “Star Trek”. Unlike watching most films or playing most games, it almost feels like you’re having some kind of a relationship with a book. For a few hours or days, it becomes part of your everyday life and part of your mind. It’s cover art becomes something you see regularly and the story becomes something that follows you around for a while.

Even if you only remember a few random scenes or impressions several years later, each book that you’ve read becomes a part of your life in a way that no other entertainment medium can quite achieve. Because you’ve spent the time with a book and because you and the author have come up with a unique “version” of the story, there’s something personal about remembering a book that you just don’t get with other entertainment mediums that are the same for every viewer or player. Because of this, books linger in the memory like nothing else, often mingling with the memories of the time and place you read them.

Even the corniest horror novel, the most generic of romances or the most textbook of thriller novels will do this. I mean, I still remember random scenes and moods from the only two “Mills & Boon” books that I’ve ever read, even if I can’t remember their titles or character names. I could also tell you where I read each one and the years that I read them (2006 and 2009/10).

Likewise, even though it’s been quite a while since I last read a decent horror novel, I can still vividly remember being too creeped out by Shaun Hutson’s “Shadows” to keep reading. I can also still remember the car journey (of all things) during the holiday when I read Hutson’s “Spawn”. Or parts of the holiday home where I read Hutson’s “Heathen”.

Even though it was about a decade and a half ago, I can still remember reading James Herbert’s “Domain” (a second-hand copy with a shiny cover from an indoor market stall in Bath) in my bedroom with aghast bleakness and morbid fascination whilst I listened to HIM’s “Love Metal” album on my CD player. I could go on for a while, but books linger in the memory in a way that nothing else does.

Then there’s the obscurity. Unless you’re reading something really famous, there’s a good chance that the books you read are ones that the people around you either haven’t heard of or haven’t read. Books usually don’t really have the popularity of major films or “AAA” games. And yet this just adds to the sense of intimacy and humanity that other entertainment mediums can only dream of.

Reading a book, even by a reasonably well-known author, feels like you’ve stepped into another world. Like you’ve stepped into a hidden part of the surrounding culture that is rarely mentioned in newspapers or on TV. That probably isn’t referenced humourously in the way that films are. Like you’ve stepped outside of popular culture and found that there’s a lot more than you expected. That, for every blockbuster franchise in the cinemas, there are literally hundreds of equally spectacular franchises hiding on the shelves of bookshops. It’s like seeing another world.

I could go on for a while, but I’ll leave you with this. All of this stuff comes from an entertainment medium that doesn’t require electricity, that can be left lying on a shelf for literally decades and still “work” perfectly, and which can often only cost a small amount. It’s practically magic!

———–

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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