Sunday, June 26, 2005

Digressing about the un/reality of people in books

Oftentimes when I'm reading a book, I'll become rather obsessed with some trivial character--a walk-on, even. The person is usually quite two-dimensional, with only a sentence or two of introduction, if that. But I find myself wondering what kind of a person this is, for surely he has as complex a story as the protagonist--maybe more so. I wonder who his family is, and how he may have become an integral part of the story if only things had lined up a little differently.

In The Fountainhead, for once the answers were provided by the author instead of my own imagination, because characters like Dominique, Ellsworth Toohey, and Gail Wynand were just barely mentioned in passing, like a dozen others, until a few hundred pages into the book they suddenly became quite vital to the story.

In Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, which I re-read today, I wondered about the old man in the coffee-shop:
"Hoshino didn't know this, of course, but the man used to be an official in the Ministry of Education. After retirement, he came back to his hometown of Takamatsu and opened up this coffee shop, where he made fine coffee and played classical music."
As far as I can recall, this coffee-shop man didn't even have a name. But he could have had his own book, I bet, as could Oshima's brother or Kafka Tamura's father or the young teacher who testified at the beginning. On the other hand, now that I think about it, writers could fill the whole world with books about these different characters, but if I just spent all my time reading about them and sympathizing with figments of somebody else's imagination, I guess I wouldn't have any time to be with real people, the dullest of whom is intrinsically more interesting than any character in a book, because real people are dynamic--always changing and learning--and people stuck in ink and paper can't ever change from the day they're published (except in the minds of real-live people, of course).

No matter how real they may seem to me, sometimes.

Which brings me to my next thought: if reading about someone is bound to be less interesting than an actual tangible exchange--and on top of that, one-sided, because you can't converse with people in books--then why do I love it so? Maybe because I get to act as an observer, coming to my own conclusions as slow as I like, without being pressed for a response or analysis. I can accept big things that are wrong or confusing without bothering to delve into them, even if that's what's expected of me, and I can focus on little things that are wrong and confusing--or little things that are good and right.

Because I am shameless, I'll quote Pulp Fiction:
"That's when you know you've found somebody special. When you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence."
What I'm trying to say is, I think that what I like about books so much--well, maybe just one aspect of why--is that I can be introspective by myself, at my own pace, thinking what I want or not thinking anything at all, without having to ruin my thoughts by the proprietary rules of reflecting out loud. Sometimes I like talking about books--in fact, a lot of times I do--but I don't like doing what's expected of me. I don't like having to answer the question, "What did you think of that?"

Is that just petulance? Eh.

So that's the trade-off of real people versus book characters: the luxury of being the undisturbed observer of a situation, or the excitement of the inability to flip ahead and find out what the character's thinking. I'm glad I have both.

P.S. What should I read next? I'm thinking maybe James Frey's A Million Little Pieces (nothing like a harrowing tale of drug addiction to read on a sunny beach!), but I'm open to suggestions.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That love of being a detached observer is probably what motivates you to write. I think the best writers are the ones who really cherish the ability to observe their surroundings, be them people or places, from the outside. Compelling writing is usually borne of that that sort of a deatached awareness, I think.

12:01 AM  
Anonymous okay-OKI! said...

Korean kids speak some english...i guess about the amount that I speak french, some kids are better than others, especially the ones who've been to the states for a year-exchange type thing.

but korean is really different from english, so t would be harder than say, a German kid learning english.

also, most are rather shy about speaking english in front of us.

some outgoing kids have given us some really hilarious moments with their broken english. they tried to make us quote american movies like Chicago, which I guess they really liked.

I think the ability to really "get into" a book is priceless. It's sad that english this year has had a rather negative effect on how i read, but soon I will get back into the groove.

hey, california, korea, it's not that much different! I'll still be able to talk to you lots. annnnd we will totally be pen pals, I MEAN RIVALS OF THE PEN, MY BAD.

12:05 AM  
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