I’ll admit right up front that I am a very squeamish person. Blood and guts and gore will never appeal to me, in any kind of format—I’ve fainted in doctor’s offices and classrooms when presented with surgical inevitabilities and graphic videos. It’s entirely embarrassing, but try as I might to suck it up or focus on something else entirely, it doesn’t always work, and then there I am on the floor, disoriented, with someone’s face stuck right up in mine frantically wondering whether I’ve died or whatever other sorts of things people just fall over for.
I would have been better suited to the Victorian age, smelling salts in hand at all times.
I’ve grown used to these possibilities and thus steer clear of the more literal scenes in medical television shows and documentaries, and will timidly ask a person to stop talking about a particularly gruesome operation or accident. However, this morning, for the first time, I had to close the book I was reading and take a few deep breaths before opening it up again. There had been no warning, and I suppose the diseases and hospital procedures that were being described weren’t especially horrible, but they were written so darn well that the reality was right there, in clear picture in my mind. The usual wave of nausea followed by blurred vision and a strange floating feeling in my brain came over me. I tried to ignore it, frustrated with myself, because I was really enjoying the story, but I was also getting dangerously close to falling off my chair and probably knocking coffee all over the place in the middle of a fairly bustling café early in the morning, so I did the responsible thing and stopped reading for a moment. Afterward, better able to handle the words with this bit of preparation, I proceeded cautiously, feeling only a little bit sick until all talk of it had passed.
Usually, good writing takes a physical toll only in the form of tears or laughter, and while I’m wholly impressed at this new level of visceral narrative, perhaps a personal disclaimer on the front cover of: “RACHEL. PLEASE DO NOT READ OR PERHAPS ONLY SKIM PAGES 28-34 AND ALSO PAGES 49-52. THIS IS FOR YOUR HEALTH. THANK YOU.” would have been helpful.
In any case, this got me thinking about how much a novel, or I suppose, any written account, can affect us on such a human level. Music, film, theater and art of course have all been noted to do the same in many cases, but I feel that literature has often been neglected in its profound effect on the physical being. Perhaps because it’s almost fully a private enjoyment? I don’t know the answer to that one, and I don’t really expect anyone to be able to explain it, but I do ask if you have had a similar experience with a piece of writing. A physical manifestation of a usually solely mental or emotional reaction to a book—has this ever happened to you?