Monday, October 22, 2012

What Kind of Imagination Do You Have?

As a kid, I was a bookworm. I was the kid who constantly heard "Get your nose out of that book!" and "You're deaf, dumb, and blind when you've got your nose in a book!" I was the kid who carried extra books to school beyond all the heavy required texts. I was the kid who read ahead in the reading books to get to the end of the story.

Now, as an adult, I open a good novel at my family's and my to-do list's risk. I will disappear into the world of the book. My kids call it "Scorpio-ing." (I'm a Scorpio, and that sign is noted for its powers of concentration.) My youngest son has been known to jump up and down in front of his book-immersed mother, flapping his arms, to demonstrate to visiting friends how weird I am--though he and his sister inherited that ability to be swept up in an enthralling novel's world.

When I'm reading a good novel--classic, literary, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, makes no difference--the author's world and the people in it come alive for me, and I am living the book's story with them. I am experiencing that world and that story in a visceral way that is sometimes more real than the way I experience the quite-wonderful world of my daily life. I suspect I developed this ability as a survival mechanism in my dire childhood (which made "Mommie, Dearest" look like a fairy tale). Pouring myself into the book I was reading and the world it created in my imagination allowed me escape from some very scary times for a little kid. Novels kept me sane and allowed me to know there were many other ways of living in the world beyond the one in which I was currently caught..

That ability to live within the story I'm reading has served me well, though. It brought me whole, if scarred, from the kind of childhood that routinely tosses people into drug addiction, crime, mental illness, and suicide. It turned me into a writer at a young age. It allows me to experience my own stories while I'm spinning them in that same real way.

I enjoy movies, as well, but I have to say, no movie has ever given me that same total immersion into a different reality that a book does.I think that's because watching movies and television is passive while reading a book is active, drawing your whole brain into a co-creation of the world and people of the book. My oldest son can't do this. He's totally a movie person. His brain is wired a different way, very analytical, a whizz at math and computers where he makes much more money than all of the rest of us combined. So I know this isn't a given for everyone. I think it's a function of the type of imagination we are born with.

When I have had injuries and illnesses involving great pain and discomfort, reading novels has sometimes been the only way for me to gain some relief. For the hours I am caught up in the book's world and away from the pain troubling my body. I am living elsewhere and involved with other things. Mysteries and fantasy novels have helped me get through miserable nights when no medicine that I could take would give me relief from the pain, as well as helping me survive the equally great pain of grief. The Lord of the Rings movies are wonderful, and I love them, but they don't take me out of myself in the same way as the original books do.

What about you?  When you want to wander in a new story's world or seek relief from emotional or physical stress, do you turn to movies or to books? When you read your books, do you become completely involved in the story's world?


  1. No movie, however well made, can match the power of my imagination. I can measure my recovery from a bone marrow transplant in terms of what and how long I can read.

  2. I know what you mean, warren. When I was so sick with CMV that I couldn't walk to the bathroom by myself, I could only read certain books and only for a short span at any one time. I could measure my recovery in longer reading periods and wider reading choices. Hope you're reading lots of different books all the time now!

    And you're absolutely right about the imagination. But some people can't bring a book alive with theirs, as well as we do, and movies work better for them.

  3. I look to books for entertainment, when I need to destress,when I am not feeling well,when I am trying to fall asleep. I like stories in almost any kind of setting: familiar places, places that would like to visit, magical places. I prefer fiction,especially mystery/suspense/thrillers/espionage,but I also enjoy some paranormal and fantasy novels. A couple of years ago I read one memoir after another for a few months,and enjoyed just about every one of them. I still read several memoirs per year.To help me relax enough to fall asleep, I keep a stack of humor books handy,especially essays.

    My siblings and I were raised by loving parents who were avid readers who told us how much fun we would have reading. And we did. I was sick a lot in second grade. My dad spent his lunch hours browsing in bookstores, trying to find books for me to read while I was recuperating. He brought home lots of biographies of people who were role models for kids. My parents also enrolled us in the Scholastic book club and some other book clubs as well. I do not know how they came up with the money because we had to live in low income housing, but we always had new books in our home. I was an unathletic, clumsy kid that nobody ever wanted on their team - which was fine with me, because I was happier reading, anyway. (One of my sisters - who also loves to read - still teases me that whenever she would ask me to play with her, my answer was always "just let me finish reading this chapter", and then I would lose track of time and read another, and then another, and then another!)

    I know that other people find escape in movies. The daughter of a dear friend has numerous health problems. When her health problems become particularly frightening,she watches horror movies. She has a huge collection of them. She says they relax her; no matter how horrible or frightening her problems are, they're better than what is happening on the TV screen, and it somehow makes her feel more in control of her world.

  4. DebRo, I think many of us who are bookworms and book lovers would find your account of childhood familiar. I was a sucker for the biographies of people of accomplishment as a kid (still am when I have the time). It wasn't my parents setting them as role models for me, but myself. I read their biographies as if they were manuals on how to rise above the poverty and dysfunction in which I lived.

    I can't imagine watching horror movies for comfort. But we use our imaginations to do whatever will get us through those terrible, tough times.

    Thanks for stopping by, DebRo! xoxo

  5. There have been a few movies that have totally swept me up (Lord of the Rings is one of them), but I judge a book on how fast it makes the time go. If I sit for hours reading it, carry it around the house, hold it while I do chores, stay up all hours to finish it, and wish I was reading it when I'm doing something else, THAT'S a good book. It really just pulls me into it in the way movies (however I might enjoy them) rarely do.

    It's interesting you mention your oldest. My son is the same way. He is a reluctant reader, very good at math, very analytical and will get sucked into a movie much faster than a book. Interesting correlation, that.

  6. Yes, Mary, I think it's just different ways of using the brain. The more analytical and pragmatic-minded find movies more rewarding than books because they need a base for their imagination to soar from. Just differently wired. My son can read how-to and tech manuals with the greatest interest because his type of imagination allows him to take those practical specs and build whatever it is in his imagination, but when he opens even a great novel, he falls asleep over it in no time. Boring. It doesn't give him what his type of imagination needs.

  7. Hi Linda– When I had a flareup of my PPS symptoms recently, my muscles were inflamed and I couldn't get out of bed for 3 days for more than a minute or two at a time. The pain would drive me back quickly. The pain distracted me from listening, even listening, to one of my audiobooks. I had the idea that if I could read a book on my iPhone, that extra concentration needed to read the printed word, would be enough to remove me to the world of the book. I clicked on the Kindle app and selected a book. I set my iPhone on the pillow beside my head and made a little nest for it so the angle was good for reading. It was not easy to read that way. It was actually quite difficult. But, I think, the reason it worked in helping me get through the pain was it required so much extra effort. I had to read the words. I had to keep my focus, so I did not lose my place. I had to keep the phone in my line of sight. I knew that if I did all of these things I would have a good story to lose myself in, along with my pain. It really is quite difficult, and moves very slowly. It is, however, a blessing that is better than medicine from the pharmacy, that rarely works in these situations anyway. Each time that I am able to do this I am surprised at how well it works. I seem to come out the other end a little better– all from a book and the effort that it takes to read it.

  8. Reine, I'm so glad the book helped you, sweetie. I trust--because you're posting now--that you've moved past that bad time.

    I can't really read in bed when I go down with a really bad flare because of those kinds of physical difficulties with neck and hands/arms/shoulders. I may have to get past my distaste for them and get an ereader, although I think I'd be more inclined to get an IPad that I could read books on.

    Still, it's true. The book is better medicine than actual drugs for those of us who can use our imaginations that way.

    1. Linda, yes, it is better now, thank you. Good totems.

      I said iPhone, but i I meant iPad. I have a Kindle app on my iPad. I prefer the format to all the others including iBooks, although iBooks has some features that work especially well for me. But they have too many restrictions on the use of the books you purchase from them. If that changes I will reconsider, but so far the Kindle app works great on my iPad. I also use on my iPhone. l also sometimes use the B&N app. One of our sons likes to give me B&N gift cards.

      Reading is medicine. xo

    2. You are so right, Reine!! Reading is good medicine. Wishing lots of good medicine. xoxo