To rephrase a line from the really fun comedy The Truth about Cats and Dogs, “You can love books, just don’t loooooove books.” Unfortunately, a new survey has found that for many fiction readers, their favorite characters are stepping out of the pages and into their daily lives. Before you have to wonder if Christian Grey has invaded more than a few bedrooms, never fear, it’s not quite that weird.
According to a survey by Durham University of more than 1,500 readers, “Nineteen per cent of those respondents said the voices of fictional characters stayed with them even when they weren’t reading, influencing the style and tone of their thoughts – or even speaking to them directly. For some participants it was as if a character ‘had started to narrate my world,’ while others heard characters talking, or imagined them reacting to things going on in everyday life.”
Any book lover can attest to having read a work that just won’t leave them once the covers are closed. But the abundance of digital books and the instant access to great material provided by ebooks, fan fiction sites, and reader-centric platforms like Wattpad and Goodreads might mean that avid bibliophiles can afford to get caught up in the story more deeply than before.
“I have had readers say that they were sad that a book ended because they didn’t want the characters to go away, because they missed them,” author and psychologist Charles Fernyhough, one of the report’s creators, said in an interview with The Guardian. “It’s satisfying to know that you’ve created a character who has some life outside yourself.”
That feeling of satisfaction is what drives a lot of authors, especially self-published authors, many of whom are in it for the creative effort more than the likelihood of fame and fortune. Knowing that a character or a story resonated with readers to the point that they can’t put the book behind them is satisfying in ways that bestseller lists might not be. While surveys like this one might seem to speak to the beliefs of the exception, greater access to high-quality reading material may mean this involvement with literature only progresses.