I love to read. Historical fiction, legal dramas, suspense, mysteries, and spy novels tend to pique my interest the most.
My favorite way to spend a day off would be curled up in a hammock with a book I can’t put down. Great stories take me to places I can’t easily go, enveloping me in adventures and experiences I’d never have otherwise.
I’ve been in several different book clubs over the years, where I’ve had to admit I often “skim for dialogue.” This means I can find myself bored with lengthy paragraphs that merely set the scene without really pushing the storyline forward.
I know, it’s not the greatest habit to admit when surrounded by a bunch of bibliophiles. It’s actually why I can sometimes miss nuance in books. But I hadn’t really thought of it as a bad thing. In fact, it’s been really great for one primary reason—it allows me to the good parts more quickly.
For example, when I can tell the story is going to a really sad place, such as when someone experiences loss, I can check out a bit—skimming until I pass the emotional parts—tears optional! This is particularly helpful when I’m reading in a public place, by the way.
Headphones: Not Optional
Since the shutdown, I’ve had a hard time getting my hands on actual books. Our library was closed until September! I borrowed some books from neighbors and downloaded others on Kindle.
Then my daughter suggested I try audiobooks.
“It won’t feel right,” I complained. “It’s the same problem I have with the Kindle. I much prefer to hold a real book in my hand when I read. They are really only good for long car rides…”
Nevertheless, when a book I’d been wanting to read had a six month library wait list but was immediately available via audiobook, I decided to try it.
As I was cleaning my house over the weekend, while also reading/listening to the book, I wondered, “WHY DID’T I DO THIS YEARS AGO?!” Multi-tasking and getting to read? AMAZING! I walked the dog and “read.” I cooked and “read.” When I couldn’t sleep, I “read” without waking my husband. When I painted the grout around my bathroom tile (don’t ask), I “read.” Amazing.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
But then, as the story went deeper, I realized I wasn’t able to skim like I might normally. Instead, the words seemed to jump to life in front of me as I listened to the rich language describing the scenes. And when I found myself Googling the story’s location to look at pictures, I could totally imagine the characters living out their story there.
[For the record, I often Google a story’s location so I can visualize it better, but there was something about being able to do that while continuing to listen to the story that made it feel more immersive.]
And then… somewhere toward the end of the messy middle… the “C” word was mentioned. Stage 4. Metastatic. Nothing they could do. Fast-forward, I thought. For the love of all that is holy and true, FAST-FORWARD! SKIP! SKIP!
But I couldn’t figure out how to skip just the sad part but not miss anything else. I tried. 🙁
So I had to listen. Had to. I couldn’t stop, in fact. Before I knew it, the character was telling her daughter how much she didn’t want to say good-bye and couldn’t leave her. And then the daughter lies and says she’ll be OK… and that her mom could let go.
I’m sobbing. Literally sobbing. At a book about pretend people living in a pretend place.
BECAUSE I COULDN’T SKIM.
[For the record, again, I am not a cold-hearted snake. I have cried at plenty of other books. But it’s usually a controlled cry. Like how firefighters burn one area so as to avoid an all-out catastrophic wildfire. This cry, on the other hand, was the catastrophic wildfire cry because there was no control. At all. Just buckets. Full.]
The Best Stories Have All the Feels
I love great stories. I consider myself (and anyone who works in the creative field) to be, first and foremost, a storyteller. I’ve often sent a team member back to refine a piece when it wasn’t strong enough to evoke an emotional response from the reader/viewer. I fully appreciate the value of stories that move us.
I just don’t necessarily like to feel all the feels that come from being moved, I guess.
I see this playing out in the stories of my life, too. I fully subscribe to the belief that God writes the best stories. Sometimes it doesn’t seem so, though, because we are living in the messy middle of the story—the part with all the drama and tears and pain and confusion. And we don’t get to see the end of the story until, well, the end of the story.
When my story, or the stories of those around me, gets really hard, I have a tendency to want to check out. To dull the pain. To skim forward until things even out a bit.
This also means when going through a trial, I want to fast forward to where it’s all better. I want to flip a switch, so to speak, to turn on the light and cast away the shadows. But life doesn’t work that way.
The irony is that even though I don’t normally post book reviews online, I was compelled to leave a five-star review within an hour of finishing the last chapter.
It’s not that I think this book was the most amazing book I’ve ever read (or listened to, I’m still not sure how to say that?). I think I just felt this book—the good and the bad—more deeply than if I’d skimmed past the tears.
There’s a lesson here, I suppose, which I how I ended up sharing this with you. It’s something I’ll likely be pondering long after the details of this novel fade from memory, as I move further into the story my Creator is telling in me.
What do you think? What parts of a story are you most likely to try and skip? Is the answer the same whether you’re reading a story or living it? What might be gained for pushing through and experiencing the pain?
P.S. The book I was reading/listening to is The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. Highly recommended, especially the audiobook! #affiliate-link