I had a conversation on Twitter with a writer about conspiracy theories. Specifically how reading books by a certain author would send her to the interwebs to research what bits of trivia included in these books were real or fabricated. It reminded me of when I first read The Bridges of Madison County, which I can remember so clearly these 20 years later.
I finished the book in one sitting, lying on my bed on my belly (which causes my lower back to ache just thinking about it now). I was a newly married twenty-something, and we lived in a sparsely-furnished garden apartment that we could barely afford but was close to work in Arlington, Virginia. I don't remember how I heard about the book, but I remember that I was completely enthralled by the story of Francesca and Robert, the twilight-of-life love story that they shared, these serendipitous days where their lives interconnected for a sweet, albeit brief time. It's not an overstatement to say that by the time I reached the end of that little hardcover, it had changed my life.
I was convinced that these characters were real. I don't recall how I researched the possibility of Robert Kincaid, photographer for National Geographic, but I remember that I did. I had to try to track him down. I had to know that this story was real. It mattered to me. The words meant a lot to me. The emotion, the sweet agony of a love that you cannot keep; such an enduring tale.
Today, talking about Dan Brown books and conspiracy theories and the "what ifs?" that were inspired by his most recent book took me back to my experience with Bridges. Also reminded me of the first time I'd read Dan Brown, when I had done the same, researching the conspiracies and societies myself.
These books, on the surface, don't have much in common, but what they do share is a strong story that compels the reader to yearn. Now, with the luxury of the internet and search engine and the 24/7 availability of information, it's easier to find the information we seek. But the fact remains: it's the stories compel us to do so. The stories are important.
And this is why I love to read, to write, to immerse myself in words, to share them with others. Because a well-written book requires that the reader accept the reality contained within. These stories may drive us to research ideas and characters, to learn where they may have come from.
But sometimes, a good story has to stay confined to the pages. Have you ever tried to take a truly fantastical tale and explain it to someone? Or watched a movie based on a story that you loved that just couldn't deliver? That might be a post for another day, but it should be noted; respect must be paid to the page.