The resonance of books

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Photo: Ed Dunens

Think about a book that comes to mind. It might be a book you’ve received as a gift, a book you bought long ago, a book you stumbled upon in your bookcase.

How does the book make you feel? Excited, as if a whole new world has been revealed? Intrigued by new ideas? Relieved that you got through it? Sorry you didn’t have time to read it, wondering if you’ll ever get to it? Eager to read more by the same author? Annoyed that your professor made you read parts of it? Thrilled to tell others about it?

These feelings are inextricably tied to the experience of the book:

  • Where did you buy it, or did you get it as a gift?
  • Where did you read it — on the bus, in your favorite reading chair, in bed, as an audiobook while hiking, as an ebook on a plane?
  • What else was going on in your life? Were you in love, in pain, on hold, on the verge of something new?
  • What parts do you remember vividly?
  • What color is the cover?
  • Where is it on your bookcase? What other books does it nestle next to? How many times have your eyes come upon it as you were doing something else?

When someone says The Innovator’s Dilemma or Atomic Habits or Game of Thrones or Groundswell, all these emotions will come flooding back along with the title and the image of the cover.

What this means for writers

This is why you, as a writer, need to craft an emotional experience for the reader, regardless of whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction.

Every word you type, every diagram you include, what you decide about the cover and the title — all these bits of the experience will, taken together, create a resonance in the reader. When they think of your ideas — if they think of your ideas — they’ll remember they were sitting in a chair in the sun at the summer house sipping iced tea, or riding the bus to their lover’s house while wearing a parka, or cramming for a final, or bursting to tell their colleague about what they just read.

These impressions last a very long time. Seeing some books on my shelf, I can still smell the used book store on Newbury Street in Boston, or feel the borrowed mattress I was sleeping on after getting kicked out by my first wife, or see the book lined up along with a couple dozen others on the bricks and boards in my dorm room 45 years ago.

This is why it matters to get it right. Write a book and you’re casting a spell. Break that spell and you shatter the resonance, and the memory. Flow matters.

Don’t just write to type or to shout about yourself. Create resonance. Because then your ideas will live forever.

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