I have a weird habit when reading or watching something for the first time, and I’m not sure if it’s a common reaction to fiction or if it’s just me. So, obviously, I’m going to the Internet to find out.

After I finish a book, even if I’ve disliked some parts of it, even if I can tell there are going to be unfortunate questions bothering me later, there’s a period right after I close the cover where I’m still suspended in the author’s world. Later on, I’ll be able to regard the book’s flaws and judge them, and maybe I’ll decide that it wasn’t worth such a reaction — but that doesn’t lessen the first flush of enjoyment.

(There are a few times when this doesn’t happen, either because I’ve already fallen out of the book or for other reasons I can’t pin down. But that afterglow feeling is frequent enough that I think it’s just part of how my brain’s wired with regard to fiction.)

It’s the same thing with television or movies — after the credits roll, I want a minute or two where I’m still uncritically enjoying what I saw. (Actually, I first noticed this with movies, because many of my friends have the habit of picking something apart while the credits are rolling, and it irritated me to no end.) This has resulted in one or two movie nights that ended up with me trying to defend, something like the third Matrix movie, even though in the morning I’d realize that yes, that one fumbled everything. And I still remember coming home from the theater after seeing The Phantom Menace, trying to justify that it was entertaining, really, and Jar-Jar . . . well, you could just ignore Jar-Jar, right?

Yeah.  Right.

You can see why I don’t think this is a good thing. Trying to hold on to that high, that sense of being in another world, can blind me to valid criticisms of the work later on. It’s also a little embarrassing — if a book has a mawkish, incredibly sentimental ending and I’m still reduced to outright sobbing by it (as happened at least once in high school), then that doesn’t speak highly of my taste. And it’s certainly not helpful to be the one person saying “guys, shut up, I liked it!” when my friends are happily analyzing the storyline.

In a broad sense, I think this may be what the creators of those stories intend — for the reader or viewer to be caught up so strongly in the story that they don’t yet see any problem. But it’s also part of the point of fiction in general, and I don’t know if there’s something skewed in how I respond to it.

Does this happen to anyone else? Am I privileging that first reading over later analysis? Or am I just a sucker for fiction?

7 Responses to “Afterglow”

  1. 1 Terri-Lynne
    August 19, 2009 at 10:03 am

    This happens to me with just about every book, movie and TV show I watch. I wibble above the ground in my imaginative high, oblivious to the flaws others are too willing to find sooner rather than later.

    I prefer to fancy myself and those like me ‘special’ in this regard. We are able to, as you suggest, get into that author/s world and experience what they intended us to experience. We can disregard the flaws, if only for now, to enjoy that high others can’t. It’s one of the perks of having an imaginitive mind. The veil lifts slowly, because flaws are flaws and we must see them eventually, but even then we are left with the residual of that glow. Better that than the alternative of not liking ANYTHING or pulling it immediately apart. Sometimes I think people do that just to prove how smart they are. Personally, I think it usually proves instead how lacking in imagination they are.

  2. 2 auntielou
    August 19, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Me too, me too. In fact, I don’t even like to talk at all for awhile after I’ve read a book or especially when I come out of a movie. (Not TV, though, unless it’s something really special.)

    I once read a book called “The Movie Goer” hoping all the way through it would be about that sensation, to which I became addicted for awhile. Alas, the book wasn’t about that at all. I got all caught up in it anyway though.

  3. 3 mlronald
    August 19, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    See, I think that while this is an enjoyable state of mind, I’m not yet convinced that it’s the best position to have, particularly when it comes to criticism. I can think of times when my friends have come up with important things to say about works I enjoyed, and because I was still so caught up in it, I rejected their comments out of hand. Even though they were right. And picking it apart can be fun, too, if done well — or entertaining from a distance if done poorly.

    If I can like a book knowing its flaws, then it seems to be a stronger bond with it than liking it only because I’m closing my ears to criticism. (Man, my syntax is garbled tonight.) It just seems to be a multi-step process: afterglow, analysis, assessment. Maybe it’s just the duration of the steps that changes person to person? Or maybe I’m talking out of my ass again, as is often the case with me and critical response.

    (Auntielou, what was the book about?)

  4. 4 Yarnspnr
    August 20, 2009 at 1:32 am

    The one thing I hate above everything else is while I’m watching a movie my wife will ask me something like, “Oh, there’s that girl from Law and Order. Do you remember her?” Frankly I could care less. Pam will know everything about the girl. Who she’s married to, where she went to school. You name it. To me, the girl is the character in the movie, not some actress playing a role. You want to ask me questions like that a while later, fine. But not during or right after the movie. Grrrr.

  5. 5 Terri-Lynne
    August 20, 2009 at 5:30 am

    mlronald, I see your point and agree–turning a blind eye, sticking fingers in one’s ears and humming isn’t going to banish flaws in a movie or book we’ve loved. Here comes the ‘however’–I’d rather have time to absorb those things that I did love before concentrating on what went wrong.

    I will use a cake analogy. 🙂

    You are eating a piece of rich, delicious, forbidden chocolate cake. Your brain is swsimming in the sugary high. Your tongue is delirious with joy. Your tummy is saying, more, more, more!!! And just as you put that last bite into your mouth, sit back in your chair and expel that sigh of complete euphoria, your sister-in-law sits down beside you and tells you how many calories you’ve just consumed, the horrors of the sugar now rampaging your body, that you shouldn’t have eaten it because you’re allergic to chocolate and will pay the price later–you get what I’m saying.

    It’s not that all those things aren’t true. They are. One doesn’t necessarily wish to become aware of it during the afterglow. No one likes a buzz-kill, even when they’re right! Sometimes, especially when they’re right.

    Now I want chocolate cake…

  6. 6 mlronald
    August 20, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    Yarnspr, I have a bad case of the same problem — if I recognize an actor, it’ll drive me nuts trying to figure out where else I’ve seen him, instead of just enjoying the show. Although sometimes it works well for the sheer “holy shit!” aspect of it. (I’m thinking particularly of Bester in Babylon 5.)

    Terri-Lynne, I see your point. Yeah, better to enjoy the cake then rather than spoil it right away; better to consider the other aspects of the cake later. And darn it, now you’ve got me wanting cake too.

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