Have you ever been possessed by a book? You’re just reading along, and all of a sudden, you’re either completely emotionally overcome or you’re going about your day later, and this book just keeps intruding on your thoughts? I don’t mean just that you enjoy it, or even that you want to just get back to reading it; I mean this weird, more-than-expected haunting by a work of fiction, in which the author has somehow managed to crawl out of the book through its text and put on your skin and take you over for a period.
I can think of two particularly strong experiences of this feeling, in two very different ways. The first, was Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I’d been recommended this book for years, and finally got around to it one autumn a few years ago. I enjoyed it from the first, and eagerly looked forward to returning to it each time I had to put it down. But then, right dab-mack in the middle, there’s this scene. I won’t tell you what it is, because if you haven’t read it, I want you to experience it 100% on your own. Du Maurier sets up this catastrophic moment–you can feel it coming pages and pages earlier–and by the time it hit, I was–I kid you not–sobbing. Absolutely sobbing. Hiccuping, gasping, ugly-crying like a crazy person. It was so bad Andy actually came to check on me because he thought something horrible had happened. I have no idea if that sequence will hit you the way it hit me. I didn’t cry again for the rest of the book. But for that moment, I felt like du Maurier had reached out of the book, stuck her ghostly hand into my chest, and clenched my heart, yanking it beyond my control to resist.
The second example was weirder. This one, in particular, I count as possession. I need to caveat that I don’t really write a lot of poetry. I do now more than I did before this experience. I read Dahlgren, by Samuel R. Delany, around the same time I read Rebecca. Dahlgren turned me for six months into a writer of poetry. The main character writes poetry throughout the story, but somehow, through the process of showing–in minute detail–his thought process for each poem, it became imparative for me to write poetry. I couldn’t stop. I wrote them all the time, gripped by this maniacal need. For SIX MONTHS, while reading and long after finishing, I wrote poem after poem. It was like my brain wasn’t my own. Delany had crawled up into my skin and taken me over, completely, for months. The feeling gradually faded, and then the fire went out, and I returned to myself. I don’t quite remember how to write poems the way I did during that period. I wrote some I absolutely loved, wrote so quickly that it was like my brain was just downloading finished poems for a time. It was madness. It was bliss. It seems 100% foreign to me now. But it’s made me want to revisit Dahlgren someday, if only to see if it lights that poetic fire again. (Also, do yourself a favor and read Dahlgren someday–it’s huge, it’s weird, it’s absolutely one of the maddest books I’ve ever read, but it’s so tangible, somehow, on an emotional level.)
Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever read a book that profoundly changed you, if only for a moment or permanently? Have you ever felt an author’s presence so deeply within yourself as you read that you feel almost like you’ve forgotten who you are?
Books are magical things, and these two moments really stand out to me as proof of their ability to become portals, either to other times, other places, or even other alternate-dimension versions of ourselves. It’s a rare thing for me to feel so violently the things these books made me feel, but I continue to hope it’ll happen again.