Reading: A Participatory Sport
by Jacquie Rogers
|What happened in this cabin? Who stole their horses?|
Can you tell me why the heroine is hiding in the back?
My husband loves mysteries and wants to the book to be a giant puzzle, and he’s triumphant when he figures out whodunit. I generally figure it out by chapter two, or chapter three at the latest, so mysteries aren’t high on my list, but of course I read and enjoy them on occasion.
The point here is that when we read, we want to be immersed in the story—be that sleuth, be that cowboy, be that madam. Action/adventure gives me a vicarious thrill, romance gives me a deep sigh, fantasy makes me wish all over again that I could be Samantha and clean my house with a twitch of my nose. (I practiced nose-twitching for years but it didn’t affect the dishes in the sink or the laundry heaped in the corner.) When I read a Western, I want to ride with the posse.
Yes, reading is a participatory sport. My husband toss out a book, which surprised me because he’s a book hoarder. I asked him why and he said because the author didn’t play fair. Apparently, the clues were all red herrings and the murder was solved by deus ex machina.
Deus ex machina has been around since ancient times and translated from Greek means “god from the machine.” When ancient Greek playwrights wrote themselves into a corner, they’d implement a crane with an actor portraying a god, and of course gods can fix anything, so there you go—end of the play. It irritated audiences then and irritates us now. The writer didn’t play fair.
A book is a giant puzzle with clues here and there, a bunch of intertwining threads, and all of it needs to end with cohesion, so that if the reader pays attention, there’s a pretty good chance of solving the mystery. If none (or very few) of the clues that are presented with importance have to do with the solution, then yep, we have deus ex machina. Antiphanes, who didn’t like it either, said:
when they don't know what to say
and have completely given up on the play
just like a finger they lift the machine
and the spectators are satisfied.
Nope, we aren’t, and we don’t want that. Whether it’s mystery, suspense, action/adventure, fantasy, or sci-fi, it’s only fair that the author paint the world for us, and then follow all the rules in the world so we can play along. We don’t want to just read—we want more than that. We want to live in that world.
Question of the day: Do you agree that reading is a participatory sport? What sort of reader are you?
Much Ado About Mustangs