I’ve written before about the mixed emotions I feel as I near the end of a good book: there’s excitement to find out how it will end, a little worry as to whether I’ll be satisfied with that ending, and also a particular sort of sadness, deep in my rib cage, about parting ways with it. When I’m immersed in a great read, it can be so absorbing that I can’t help but leave part of my mind in the book’s world as I’m moving about in my own; the characters’ voices and predicaments continue to play out as if on a TV screen in the corner. I find myself wondering about them — how they’re feeling, what will happen to them. The haze of that other realm, the texture of the language, follow me around and beckon me to come back soon.
This is often true of TV shows and movies, too. While I enjoy creating my own vision in my head while I’m reading, the provided visuals and audio of the screen add so many more crevices to explore and cozy up with: the costumes, the sets, the actors’ vocal inflections and facial expressions, the music… (The music is utterly essential — I’m planning another post soon about the infinite ways music is tied to emotion and memory. Stay tuned!) Friends, The Office, Community, Gilmore Girls — I came to care about those characters and their worlds so deeply that I felt as if I truly knew them.
One of the things I’ve missed most during the pandemic is going to the movies. In recent years, I became a proponent of going to the movie theater alone. It’s the best way to allow yourself to become fully transported into the story. This is how I experienced some of my favorite films of the past few years: A Star Is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman (no coincidence about the run of music movies!), and my second viewing of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (which I found mostly to be lovely but in many ways to fall short of the 1994 version, which happens to be my favorite movie of all time). I’m excited to say I recently ventured out to resurrect this tradition and see In the Heights. (Highly recommend.) As the opening musical number swelled and reverberated through the room, I was buzzing with adrenaline and such profound gratitude. I would argue that going to see a movie alone is nearly on par with attending a live concert in terms of savoring a fully immersive consumption of entertainment. And it’s a consumption of content — as a writer, it always comes back to that for me. Someone else has created this piece — these words, notes, visuals, etc. — and, in sharing it, has added content to my life. They have imparted an experience.
The ability of words on a page (or acted out on a screen, as the case may be) to make us laugh or cry or gasp is what solidified my dream of being a writer. I read a sappy Lurlene McDaniel novel in junior high and remember crying actual, full-fledged tears when one of the main characters died — and immediately afterward feeling a full-bodied awe at the fact that those tears were brought about by symbols on paper. I’d always been an avid reader and enjoyed making up poems and stories of my own, but that was the moment I knew: I want to do THIS.
We invest so much of ourselves in all of these types of content that it’s only natural to have such high demands of them — we invest not just time but emotion: hope, curiosity, vulnerability, the expectation of some sort of escape. We don’t want to be let down by the writers, the characters, the actors; we feel appreciative when they come through for us and impart an impactful experience.
The other side of that coin is that when we finish good content of any type, there is a mourning period of sorts. We emerge from that other world we’ve inhabited for however many hours and have to adjust to being back in our own familiar surroundings, often with a pang of longing — something, already, like nostalgia — for the friends and atmosphere we’d come to know.
For me, though, the most exciting part of finishing a book is picking out which one I’ll read next. I’m a bit of a book hoarder. My multiple bookshelves are stuffed with favorites I hope to reread someday (or simply feel I must own, even if they don’t get reread in their entirety) and many, many books that I haven’t yet read. A small sampling — maybe 20 or so — are promoted to my bedside shelf as a sort of holding area for what’s to be read soon. There’s a pressure of sorts, an eagerness that borders on anxiety, as to picking the next read. What about all those others still waiting? Is this the one I’m ready for next? Choosing the next show or movie to cross off my to-watch list is a similar struggle. The thrill and uncertainty of these decisions, every time, speaks to the power that quality content has over us.
What great reads or binge-watches have you gotten lost in lately? Share your favorites with me — so I can add them to my ever-overflowing queues, calling to me as they wait in the wings.
5 thoughts on “Great Expectations of the Content We Consume”
Such a great post, Valerie! You’ve got the heart of a true storyteller, it’s clear. We get all wrapped up in characters’ lives, they feel like our own. When I finished my last book and really put it away it felt like a bit of me was going through a divorce (not to diminish the trials and pain of real divorce). Music is essential for me, too. Somehow I still haven’t seen Bohemian Rhapsody, though I adore Queen. And I can’t wait to see In the Heights. (On my list.) Did you ever see Bullets Over Broadway? From the 90s, I guess. That was probably one of the first movies I saw by myself. I saw it when I was on my own, at 19, and had to ride my bike to the theater–probably a half hour ride. I just LIVED that movie, over and over. When books can make me that excited, it’s really special. I just recently HAD to buy an autographed copy of Kaitlin Horrocks’ THE VEXATIONS, about Erik Satie (I’m a big classical music nerd). I could feel the music is that book and didn’t want to stop hearing it–it’s due for a re-read soon. Love your bookshelves, btw!
Thank you so much, Rebecca! I’m a fan of your work, and your support means a lot. I’m glad you could relate to so much of this post! If you’re a Queen fan, you absolutely must put Bohemian Rhapsody near the top of your to-watch list. It’s one of those ones that truly transports you. I’ve never seen Bullets Over Broadway, so I’m adding that to my list now! Sounds like just my style. And I hadn’t heard of The Vexations but love Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies! That sounds like an interesting read. Also adding to that list! I appreciate the recommendations, and thanks again for reading!
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Could we just get another 24 hours added to the day so we could read and watch all the good stuff!? Thanks for your inspiring words and recommendation, too, Valerie!
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Add Braiding Sweetgrass to the queue by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I think we chatted for a sec about Milkweed Editions? Ugh! It’s so amazing that I’m jealous of people getting the experience of reading it for the first time. Fabiano is reading it now, and I keep asking him to tell me about whatever essay he is on, poor guy.
Thank you for reading and commenting, including these great recommendations! Both the book and the press look amazing. I’ve added it to my list. And now I want to visit Milkweed’s Open Book building!