Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Virtual Book Reality

In which I prove that we are biologically programmed to like good books.

I read this week about a study on perceived pain. Subjects were hooked up to virtual reality machines and given glasses that allowed them to "see" through a virtual character's eyes. After "walking" around for a while as the character, subjects witnessed (through the glasses) someone coming at them with a knife and cutting them (as the character) in the stomach. The subject were not cut, of course, but they overwhelmingly reported feeling pain as if they had been.

I can't find the study now, but it doesn't surprise me. If you read good books, this happens to you all the time. Otherwise, why do I cry every time Charlotte dies? Great writing puts us into a character's shoes, makes us "see" through his glasses, and then makes us feel what he feels. And the most wonderful part is that even when those feelings are sad or terrified, the sensation of feeling them along with the character is pure deliciousness. Otherwise, why would I have read Charlotte's Web one million times? And why does it make me smile warm and broad when I remember a really good book?

So, for your third day of Hanukkah gift, I offer you Jacqui's top five non-Charlotte's Web books that had that delicious, feel it with the character effect on me. If you have read them, your present is that "yes!" feeling that comes with remembering them; if you haven't, your present is the introduction.

5)The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami. Reading Murakami can make you feel like you're crazy...and it's wonderful. The main character in this spends some time at the bottom of a well. The moment I finished it, I turned on the radio and by one of those absolutely unfathomable random coincidences, that Mike Doughty song, "Looking at the World From the Bottom of a Well" was playing. It was the first time I had heard it and I FREAKED OUT.

4) Time and Again, by Jack Finney. Made me think I'd slipped into winter 1882. Spent the week shivering and not sure I wasn't a 19th century woman.

3) Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. During the week I read this, I actually tried to do magic in real life. Seriously. I forgot and literally tried to lift something without touching it.

2) Is it cliché to pick The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje? Ondaatje is a master of sucking a reader into the mood. I felt everything along with these characters. And the end! Oh! The end! The yearning! The sand! The frustration and injustice! It is Simply. So. Good. Yum. Must go read some now.

1) Blindness, by José Saramago. Utterly unrelenting. Was surprised to be able to see whenever I looked up from the page, which was not often. Absolutely my top choice. Also, I asked Thor for his recommendations without telling him mine and Blindness was his top choice too.

Huh. These are all books for grown-ups. Will have to make my kidlit top five some day. Meanwhile, what's on your list?

And here's the Doughty video, just cause I like the song, and it reminds me of the book.

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