booking through thursday: mental imagery

How much do you visualize when you read? Do you imagine faces for the characters? Can you see the locations in your mind’s eye? Or do you just plunge ahead with the story, letting the imagery fall to the wayside?

I think this depends on the quality or nature of the writing. For example, last year I read Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, set in India, and it was one of the most heartbreaking books I’ve ever encountered. A year later it’s still with me. Mistry’s descriptions of the anonymous poverty-stricken Indian city by the sea were so vivid, and the character’s personalities and appearances so carefully constructed that I feel like I really experienced the story to the fullest. Also, Mistry’s style is quiet, honed, and beautiful so it was incredibly easy to imagine faces, events, and locations with my mind’s eye.

Currently I’m reading Corban Addison’s debut novel A Walk Across the Sun, also set in India, mostly in Bombay (so far). Mistry is of course a more seasoned author and Addison new, so Addison’s descriptions aren’t quite as detailed as Mistry’s, especially of locations. Mistry placed me right there in the story with the characters, and I feel like Addison is telling me a story. While Addison’s book has a moving and powerful message about human trafficking and I’m enjoying reading it, I’m just not as emotionally invested—I feel at arm’s length for some reason. (This could be due to a number of external factors, too, like just my timing of reading or that we just moved last month, whatever.)

But in general, I’d say that images of locations are easier for me to conjure mentally while I read. Faces are tougher—often I can get sucked in enough that I see what the character sees, so I’m mentally and emotionally embodying the character and not picturing a separate being carrying out the events of the story. It was fun to try to pick out the dream cast for a few books on a recent Booking Through Thursday post, though!

How about you—what do you “see” while you read?

17 thoughts on “booking through thursday: mental imagery

  1. Very interesting! I tend to very clearly visualize the characters– their faces, clothing, even their tone of voice–but I rarely conjure up a detailed image of location or setting, even when it’s very well written. My imagination focuses the most clearly on the people.

  2. I hadn’t thought of not seeing the character’s face because I become the character but that’s very true when I’m really drawn into the story. Enjoyed reading your answer!

  3. Fabulous, imaginative post!! Also some great book ideas. I love traveling via reading and imagery. I’ve noticed that sometimes w/v little phys description but dialogue and deeds … I conjure up a real picture of a character. You have given me a lot to think about.

    • Thanks! Yes I agree—it can definitely be like items on a scale… more location description = less person image in my mind, and vice versa. I loved reading the very thoughtful and different answers to this Booking Through Thursday. Have a great weekend!

  4. I don’t picture character looks either but when a movie is being cast I sometimes feel it is so wrong even without having had a mental image.

    I always love a book that absolutely absorbs you into the story. I haven’t read A Fine Balance but think it might be on the shelf?

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