Can Imagination Get in the Way of Reading?

This is a guest post from Laura Melgão. Laura is a 27-year-old woman who still reads—and loves!—YA books. Feminist, sensible, and an introvert by nature, Laura found an escape in books soon after learning how to read. One of Laura’s recently-found aims is to write to others about literature—simply what makes my world go round.


Some time ago, I was confronted with a major aspect of reading, something we aren’t conscious of. A friend of mine – a non-reader, by the way – explained to me how he could never get interested in reading. Simply because he had the worst difficulty ever: in his mind, he couldn’t imagine the universe, the characters’ physical qualities or any room that was being described in a book. Therefore, he eventually just gave up picking up books.

This intrigued me. So I started thinking about it. I’ve read books since I can remember, so I can say that my imagination is “well-exercised,” right? As readers, what can we say about these non-readers and the people who choose watching TV over reading? We say they choose to do so because they’re lazy – they refuse to use their imagination because “it’s so hard.” And that’s what popped into my head when I heard my friend complaining about this. But then, something stopped me.

woman thinking while reading a book

In the back of my head, I remembered one thing. When I was reading Harry Potter at the age of 10 or so, I had difficulties imagining Hogwarts or the creatures of that specific world. When the movies came around, everyone kept saying “it’s just like I imagined it!” but I couldn’t say so. Some things I couldn’t quite form in my mind, so I just kept going and eventually came to the end of the book.

And then again, the same thing still happens today, once in a while. Now, this got me thinking – if we aren’t imagining the mental pictures right, is the experience being ruined for us? Can we still reach the end of the book and say “OMG, what an amazing story, I loved every inch of it”? Is it the same?

Of course, I can say that the trouble of mentally picturing the descriptions never kept me from finishing a book or understanding its plot. But still, I think I can’t say the experience of reading such a book is the same as reading a book that never challenged my imagination. After all, when you read a story that just flows naturally into your head, the characters just take their form easily, it seems you’re right there in that parallel world, and you just become the protagonist of the story.

Overall, I think we, as readers, can all honestly say that sometimes it’s hard to create the pictures the authors are giving us. And that’s okay. As we have the right to not like some genres and some plot premises, we also have the right to have trouble imagining some universes. The trick is, just keep practising – and reading!

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