My preferred activity as a kid was sitting somewhere (I always hoped for inside and air-conditioned during the summer) with my library bag stuffed with ten to fifteen new library books, and reading the day away. I would zip from one universe to another, skip centuries back in time, advance a few thousand light years in the future, face down a dragon or learn new magic words, be embroiled in the Civil War or Elizabethan England…the possibilities were endless. Changing worlds was as effortless as changing from wakefulness to dreams.
Given this, it’s unsurprising that this article from The New York Times piqued my interest. Two writers (Francine Prose and Benjamin Moser) ask whether or not it’s harder for readers to be transported by a book as they get older. Prose argues that children’s bigger imaginations and willingness to suspend disbelief allow them to become more wholly immersed in a book. Adults are more likely to analyze, cross-reference, and compare people and events in a book to things they’ve experienced. Moser says he discovered that he wanted to read the same books again and again, since, “the deeper you go into your own writing, the harder it becomes to enter someone else’s.”
Now of course, neither Prose or Moser’s points are true for everyone. Prose admits that some books still have the ability to totally immerse her in their reading experience and plenty of writers find new inspiration and motivation from reading other people’s work. Reflecting on my own reading trends, I realize that maybe I’m choosing a different kind of immersion as I’ve gotten older. I used to devour everything fantasy & sci-fi as a kid—I loved escaping to other (more exciting) worlds that had the possibility of magic glimmering at every turn. Now, I’m more interested in commercial fiction, “women’s” fiction, and more contemporary fiction, perhaps as a reflection of my own life. I’m turning to these genres for answers, other experiences and perspectives, and identification in my own life. It’s a different kind of immersion. (And I still love sitting down on a weekend and turning my attention to the stack of two or three library books I’ve checked out.)
What do you think? Can you mark a noticeable difference in your reading experience as a child and an adult? Do you think writing helps or hurts your reading?