In a series of lectures, Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk ruminated on what goes on in the mind of a person reading a novel. His thoughts are summarized by Susan K. Perry, Ph.D. below.
Do these match your experiences? The point about finishing a (great) novel and feeling that it had been written just for me particularly struck home - it maybe irrational but it's so true!
- We observe the general scene and follow the narrative. Whether action-filled or more literary, we read all novels the same way: seeking out the meaning and main idea.
- We transform words into images in our mind, completing the novel as our imaginations picture what the words are telling us.
- Part of our mind wonders how much is real experience and how much is imagination. "A third dimension of reality slowly begins to emerge within us: the dimension of the complex world of the novel."
- We wonder if the novel depicts reality as we know it. Is this scene realistic, could this actually happen?
- We enjoy the precision of analogies, the power of narrative, the way sentences build upon one another, the music of the prose.
- We make moral judgments about the characters' behavior, and about the novelist for his own moral judgments by way of the characters' actions and their consequences.
- We feel successful when we understand the text, and we come to feel as though it was written just for us.
- Our memory works hard to keep track of all the details, and in a well-constructed novel, everything connects to everything.
- We search for the secret center of the novel, convinced that there is one. We hunt for it like a hunter searches for meaningful signs in the forest.
From Orhan Pamuk's The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist (2009), which originated as a series of six public lectures at Harvard; abbreviated and paraphrased by Susan K. Perry, Ph.D. in Creating in Flow.