In our modern society, full of vibrant, interactive media like video games and massive blockbuster films, it can be easy to overlook the humble trade paperback. However, books offer a unique form of immersion that these experiences cannot, and likely will never be able to. The written word appeals to the nature of humans as storytellers. As long as we have/ had campfires, we have sit around them long into the night, listening to the tales of our elders passed down to be shared with us amongst the flickering flames. That intent, and that level of personal connection between story, storyteller, and audience, can be found in the works of great authors.
When you watch a movie, or play a game, you are experiencing the work of at least dozens, and likely hundreds, of people. Their ideas and work mingle and mix to create a final product that, while hopefully thematically and artistically work.
When you read Hamlet, however, you are reading the exact words of Shakespeare – you are experiencing his precise vision. Not only does this sometimes cause the story to resonate more, it makes us more able to appreciate the human aspect of the work.
Reading Kafka, for instance, one is compelled by his surrealist storytelling – but one can also feel the edges of the life behind those stories, the frightened man leaving his own life’s troubles behind him as he scribbles at his desk, writing letters he believes no one will ever read. This is something that “larger” works of art will simply never be able to offer
Books provide us with shared history and cultural knowledge, giving us context that allows us to understand each other more deeply. People connect with characters in books, often because they are given internal lives deeper than those usually portrayed in film. And those connections help us to connect to each other, too.
When we read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and share the protagonist’s fall from grace and subsequent isolation and depression, we can learn something about passing judgement on others that applies to our own lives, and, in the end, makes us better people.