When we’re driven by the need to read one specific novel, what are we really looking for? Are we trying to get lost or do we, on the other hand, look for answers? As the outcome of this can only be subjective, why not try to seek some generic rules to it? Books can act as both healing tools, as a way to seek answers to our problems. On the other hand, we might just need to explore something unusual, a world we would otherwise not explore in real life. Either way, it is an experience of discovery and self-fulfillment.
When America was discovered, drawings and illustrations of plants amazed the European man, they who could not afford to travel such long distance and see what could be seen on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Words built up dreams and fantasies in the form of novels, where meticulous descriptions and evocative introductions would set the tone of an exotic plot the average man would never even imagine to experience. One would read of faraway places, where tribes and villages had their own way of life and only those in power could ever dream of living the same experience. Today, this is very much different. People do read about faraway places, but everything is in sight: where we cannot go, we can see. Technology has helped us in doing so, taking the imagination away from our reading experience. We are rich of images and colours, as we’re constantly bombarded by those in our real lives.
Novels do set examples, both bad and good, and examples must either be followed or rejected. Let’s, for instance, take “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald as a starting point: how can it not influence the reader? What if a woman realises she has married a “Tom Buchanan” and never realised there was a “Jay Gatsby” waiting for her? Would that sudden epiphany change her behaviour in real life? I tend to think it would, but it depends on the way the reader relates to the book. Some readers are well aware that “it’s just a book” while others fully enjoy the experience and make the plot their own. To answer the main question, one could say that the level of influence a book can have on a reader is proportional to the approach the reader has towards the act of reading. Then what draws us closer to one book rather than another? Is there always that element of “looking for the unknown“? Do we play safe? We most certainly do not. It might be an unconscious mechanism, but we always do try to project ourselves towards the unknown, the unexplored territory. The book is perfect for this: we can feel involved on so many levels, and yet we are just one step away from distancing ourself from the experiment. We’re not at risk, it’s not us; not for real. We close the book and we’re back to our real world. Unless we let that world be part of our world.