Why do we love to read books so much? After all, the plots often surround completely fictional characters, yet we easily become emotionally invested and attached to their outcomes, feeling a wide-range of emotions throughout their journeys. Why is this the case?
One of the most prominent explanations for our love and—in many ways—obsession with reading books is that they subconsciously evoke implications on the way that we understand ourselves. This phenomenon of attachment to a book due to its prompting of self-reflection is seen particularly in James Baldwin’s masterpiece entitled Giovanni’s Room which centers around the romantic relationship between David and Giovanni.
David’s tragic story resonates with us on a deep level largely due to the structure in which Baldwin portrays David and Giovanni’s relationship’s plot. The book begins with a sense of nostalgia: David reflects on his past and how relationship with Giovanni progressed. Baldwin could have easily structured the book in a chronological order; however, he tells their story through a series of flashbacks so that readers can be harshly swept from the mystical past into the dull present. The contrast in mood and tone between David’s present and past helps instill readers with a sense of nostalgia, regret, and unease; while we watch this relationship form, dramatic irony bestows upon us a sense of discomfort and anticipation for Giovanni’s death.
By time we finish the book, we feel a deep sense of regret in understanding Giovanni and David’s relationship and struggles and then having Giovanni abruptly swept off the face of the earth, leaving David with nothing but nostalgia and regret. “What could have gone differently?”—a question that this book forces us to grapple with in our own lives to subside the feeling of unease we inevitably experience after finishing the book. To regain control over these nostalgic feelings, the book prompts us to rethink our own lives and what would have gone differently. Whether it be in terms of our sexuality, a past relationship or friendship, or really anything else, Giovanni’s Room effectively gets readers thinking about their past in an attempt to regain control over their future.
According to The Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/08/google-there-are-exactly-129-864-880-books-in-the-world/61024/) , there are well over 129 million books in the world, and people are constantly reading them. We do not pour hours into these books for no reason, however—we invest into them so much because we long to connect their plots and lessons into our own lives and identities, a phenomena of utmost prominence in Baldwin’s novel.