I realize that the point of this blog is, in part, to describe my emotional response to a book. How ludicrous.
How do you describe something that has touched you? Are there ways to truly put into words the emotions that we ourselves have felt? I can tell you that something moved me, but that itself is vague. I could say that a scene made me cry, but even tears have a thousand different meanings. I can recount the scene, I could even paste it here for you to read, so that perhaps you may be moved by another’s words. Even that would not really work.
One of the most wonderful things about fiction is that each individual comes away with something different. Each word, sentence, and scene can touch you where it may not even register with another reader. Our experiences are unique, so we will all have different memories that we bring to a novel. And your life changes with every minute that you live, your personality shifts. When you pick up a book you have read a thousand times, you will always walk away with a new view. The words do not change – they have been lovingly edited, poured over, fought over by the author and editor – but once it has been published, they will stay the same. We change. We change the novel to adapt to our own life.
In some ways, it seems pretentious that anyone would want to read my reaction to a book. I could pretend that I am always going to be clinical. I could tell you over and over that I am a “literary critic”, “a scholar”. I have experience. I have done this for years. I have written countless papers dealing with everything that I try to do here.
I would be lying.
Even in my dissertations, I have chosen a subject because it moved me. I chose Scottish Literature in part because I want to champion it. I felt a connection to the people, to the authors, and to their message. I mourned the fact that they were overlooked. Some of my favorite authors were merely mentioned in other classes, but never taught. I want to change that. But again, that is my individual reaction. And no matter how well I organize my arguments, there will always be another way to take something.
So, how can I review novels without bringing myself into it? Should I even try? I really don’t think so. I honestly think that the best thing is to never deny that we as readers will always have some sort of emotional involvement with a good book. I am not saying the summer beach read will evoke that from you, even though the worst writing has the potential to do so.
My title asks the question that I have often wondered myself. Are words born there on the page? Are they stagnant or constant, never-changing unless a new edition has been released? Or, are they born within us? Imagine trying to understand another language. You hear the words, but they hold no meaning to you. Without you, the reader, the words on a page hold no real meaning until we open the book. The author can only put them there for us to interpret. It is that interpretation that I strive for, and it is that goal that makes fiction so exquisite. A good book really has the power to move someone, a few lines of a poem can strike a chord in our hearts. We may not understand what we feel when we read, but we understand that we feel something.