Ideal Environment

Last night I was sitting in a diner, and I got to thinking about how the environment in which we consume fiction affects our perception of it.

See, in the diner, there was this TV on above the bar, and they were showing this Discovery Channel program about scuba divers. And on the show, there’s a guy scuba-diving, and he’s talking into a rebreather. Except you can’t hear that, so his words are subtitled on-screen in a nice unobtrusive helvetica. Also, the TV is on mute, so his words are captioned again in an ugly, sterile black-and-white monospace, that lags about 15 seconds behind and jigs around the entire top half of the screen like a scrolling type-feed.

The electric lighting of the diner, the ambient chatter, the doubled-up and off-sync captions — all of them conspired to give the show this weird, removed quality, like I was watching real-time footage of an interstellar explorer, millions of miles away.

It was probably the ideal way to view that particular program, is what I’m saying.  It enhanced it.  I was thoroughly engrossed.

There’s a quote from Alan Moore about the ideal environment in which to read his work that goes like this:

[Watchmen] is a comic book. Not a movie, not a novel. A comic book. It’s been made in a certain way, and designed to be read a certain way: in an armchair, nice and cozy next to a fire, with a steaming cup of coffee

That’s interesting to me, and it’s got me thinking about my own work.

I think my books are designed to be read in an airport at 4AM. You buy the book on a whim, two days before, but you haven’t yet gotten to reading it, so you open it up as you’re sitting outside your gate. You finish the prologue right as the flight boards, and resume the first half of the book as you sit in your seat and wait for take-off.

Then they say that bit about turning electronics off, so you finish the page, shut down your Kindle, and watch out the window as you taxi down the runway. It’s about 5AM now, though, so there’s not much to see — just strobing orange lights and the distant silhouette of the airport. Its reminds you of pre-dawn departures on family vacations as a kid. That sense of an imminent adventure. A tonal richness so thick you could scoop it up with a spoon. You miss feeling like that.

Your thoughts return idly to the book, which has been pretty okay so far, so you guess it’ll do for a diversion. When the plane reaches cruising altitude, you resume reading, and get sucked in face-first, so deep that you barely notice the guy on your right has fallen asleep. When the steward comes by with the cart, it’s like someone’s pulling you up out of a face-first chocolate bath and dumping ice-water all over you. But a cup of coffee sounds perfect right about now, thank you very much.

You finish the coffee before you’ve even reached the end of that chapter, and you finish the book about halfway to your destination.  You close the book with that satisfied aaahhh, like the sound you make after taking a drink of soda.  And then you open the window as the sun is coming up over the clouds.

You spend the rest of the flight thinking about it.

Just thinking.

That’s how my books are designed to be read.