Authors and readers put a lot of trust in each other. Readers trust authors to take them on a journey, to deliver what they promised in the premise, and move them, inform them, or at least help them pass the time. Authors trust readers to help keep them in the writing business, both through monetary support and spreading the word. Most of the time, these relationships are between complete strangers, who will never interact. It’s sort of incredible, because these are utter strangers that we are allowing to temporarily take over our brains.
While reading, we pass the reins of our thoughts over to authors and narrators. I know some people experience reading by “seeing” the story in their heads, but for me, it’s really based in the words themselves. Once absorbed, I stop even “hearing” the specific words, but just get swept up in the narrative. Although I notice specific beautiful (or awkward) sentences, usually I stop even recognizing the wording used in the book.
Some books, though, have a very specific voice. The Parasol Protectorate series, for instance has a proper–but snarky–style that is unmistakable. Once I start reading a book like that, I start to catch myself narrating my thoughts in the same style. Reading a book set in London? Britishisms start popping up in my mental vocabulary. Reading poetry? My everyday observations of life become much more flowery (sadly, it doesn’t actually gift me with the poet’s talent). There’s nothing like realizing that your brain has gone into an involved, noir-inspired description of you running a bath for yourself.
My inner dialogue loves to borrow from the books I’m reading. At times, it’s a mild annoyance: it means starting suddenly when I realize that my thoughts are cribbing from another source and don’t actually sound like me. It can even be entertaining! Taking on a prim Victorian “voice” in your own head is a little bit amusing. But I’ve also had it completely drive me up the wall. Having all of your actions narrated in overwrought prose inside your head is excruciating. (Though, come to think of it, why was I reading such overwrought prose in the first place?)
It’s not just the narrative voice, though. That’s pretty surface-level, at least. I also pick up the mood of the book, and even the setting. It’s not just “a sad thing happened in the book and it made me sad when I read it.” It’s “I’m reading a broody novel and now everything feels kind of washed out and listless until I finally finish this book.” Of course, because it makes me feel bad, I’ll put off reading it, which means that low-level sadness will linger on and on. It’s too bad, because some of my favourite books are sad or broody ones.
It does have a positive, though. It adds another dimension to reading: not just what the book does while I’m reading it, but what it leaves with me once I’ve put it down. Sometimes I’ll get indistinct cravings, and after puzzling out exactly what I’m wanting, it turns out to just be a certain book. You know, that one that feels steamy, passionate, and a little claustrophobic? Or the airy, light book with the quippy dialogue that makes your inner thought process snarky while you’re reading it? So it’s a mixed bag, this susceptibility to contagious narration.
Do you find narrators contagious? Have you had your own thought processes overwritten by the book you’re reading? I’d love to know your experiences with this!