A phenomenon people who read are familiar with: book in hand, hours pass unnoticed. A book has so engaged the mind that the hard desk chair, the unheated library, the downstairs neighbor’s murderous lovers’ spat go unnoticed. To emerge from such a state is like waking from an afternoon nap: sleep snatched during normal business hours, dreams lucid.
This phenomena is concentration. Not the space-out, but rather an opposite state: an active mind working in and out of text, drawing from memory and new information.
That this depth of concentration can only occur when storytelling is transparent, i.e., when there is no authorial presence to interfere with the reader’s attention upon the story, is false. An easy read encourages a sloppy read. Strong, plot-driven narratives often keep readers rapt, but something that demands close attention—which plot-driven narratives rarely do—is better equipped to engage the active reader. Just because a reader looks up from the page doesn’t mean the reader isn’t still inside the text. Books that hold the active reader’s attention allow for contemplation, invite the reader to pause and reread a line that was especially dense or especially beautiful, and stimulate new thinking. I’ve heard such interludes described negatively as “being thrown out of the story.” Rather, such interludes are a part of the story.
A book is an exciting object. Exciting because of the promise of what’s inside. By inside, I mean the text of a book—be it a story, a collection of poems, paintings, diagrams, mathematical equations, etc. This is why a poorly made book can be as exciting as a book that is beautiful. Recall the brittle paperback that became prized, made more precious for every page the cheap glue gave up, for every yellow flake of paper that fluttered away. That smell? That’s the acid destroying the cheap paper. Maybe you re-bound that book with a rubber band. Reader invests object with talismanic power. (via)