“I expected to be entertained , not healed”… OUTLANDER AND READER RESPONSE

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My readers have graciously requested that I continue to write during “Droughtlander the Sequel”. Admittedly, I was a bit worried about that. I wondered what I would write about after the show was over! Oh, I of little faith, the fan-dom has given me plenty of fodder! They are constantly saying or doing something that inspires me to think and then write.  For instance, Diana Gabaldon recently posted a favorite fan comment of the day.

FAVORITE READER COMMENT OF THE DAY:

“Outlander was thrust upon me by a very insistent long time fan. I expected to be entertained, not healed.”

–Beth B.

My response to this was “Awwwww”

Other readers? Not so much…

See what I mean? Plenty of inspiration fodder!

When I went to college, I was already an adult with 28 yrs of life experience. My husband gave me a little insight into what college was likely to be like for someone such as myself, “You’ll be like a sponge . You’ll love every minute.  The professors will love you and the kids will hate you for making them look bad! “. He was pretty prophetic.  I did love every minute and the kids tended to roll their eyes at me and my eagerly raised hand. I wanted to discuss and share! They wanted to pass the class with as little effort as possible and I was making them look bad. However, after a long night partying and a short night studying, some of my fellow students saw me as a valuable commodity,”Let’s ask Beth what the reading was about”.  I may have gotten my fellow students out of a sticky situation temporarily, but I always felt they were missing the point…reading was life changing.  At least, I felt so.

One of the things I learned while earning my English degree was a theory called Reader Response. In a nutshell, the theory proposes the idea that no two readers have the same reading experience because no two people are the same.  We come to a book or movie for that matter with everything we’ve read and seen and all of our life-experiences. In addition, we often come to a reading from different places in our life’s journey. Some may read a piece of literature as an 18 yr old virgin others as a 40 something well “seasoned’ individual. Some may come to a book having just experienced a most meaningful moment of human bonding. Another reader may have just experienced a devastating loss. The theory proposes that all of these things affect our response to what we read. We all make meaning and then incorporate what we’ve learned from what we read to suit our individual needs and experience. What moves me may not move you and vice versa. We react to what we read and it becomes part of us.  It makes sense and I have seen nothing since that refutes that theory.  In fact, we now have some brain science to back its validity!

Author Hilary Freeman was intrigued by the benefits of reading and wrote the article “Getting Lost in a Good Book Can Keep You Healthy”.

…there’s increasing evidence that reading for pleasure isn’t just another leisure pursuit, or merely a way of improving literacy skills and factual knowledge….It might actually be good for our mental and physical health too.”

She cites the findings of several studies and quotes neuroscientists in her article.  She concludes that reading for pleasure has both mental and physical benefits. It helps us think more clearly, enriches our relationships and can even increase our empathy.  One of the more interesting things I read in this article was a quote from John Stein, emeritus professor of neuroscience at Magdalen College, Oxford.

‘When we “get lost” in a good book, we’re doing more than simply following a story. Imagining what’s happening is as good at activating the brain as “doing” it.’

Recent brain scan studies show that when we read the same areas of the brain, “that are used to process these experiences in real life are activated, creating new neural pathways”.  So, when we read it is as if we are experiencing it ourselves.  Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2193496/Getting-lost-good-book-help-healthy.html#ixzz3cZZ0UZgR

Reading helps us to experience things we may never have the chance to in real life.  And, these studies are indicating that people are inspired to make changes in their own lives as a result. In the article,  If You Didn’t Love Reading Before You See This, You’ll Love It After  by Sarah White,  the author says that  studies show that reading fiction,

“…teaches you to be human…helps you see other people’s perspectives. A good book is the closest we can get to being in another person’s skin, and it can help us understand the real people in our lives a little better. …Reading can give you a new perspective. Here I’m not just talking about getting to peer into different worlds, but the fact that reading about life situations similar to your own may give you a different perspective on things. Whether you need help navigating a breakup or dealing with your parents, there’s a book for that.”

http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/20-reasons-read-that-will-change-your-life.html

So, it would appear that books have the potential to heal as Diana’s reader suggested. When we get lost in a book, studies have shown that we might actually change our own behaviour and thoughts to match that of the character.  It is a phenomenon that researchers are calling “experience-taking”. They found that “experience-taking’ can lead to real-life changes. Strongly identifying with a character who overcomes can lead to over-coming!

I’m sure, I’m not the only one who has found this to be true in their own lives.  Like Diana’s reader who found herself surprised to be healed by Ms. Gabaldon’s story of Jamie and Claire and all the other myriad characters she has work through all of life’s challenges and ironies, I too have been changed by books. The Box Car Children and Queenie Peavy helped to shape the child I became.  Corrie ten Boom and The Hiding Place taught me about faith and what it means to care for others and …

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Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Series has helped to enrich my relationships with those I love. So, can a book heal? I’m gonna vote yes and feel sorry for those whose worlds and experiences are limited by a life without fiction.

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64 thoughts on ““I expected to be entertained , not healed”… OUTLANDER AND READER RESPONSE

  1. brenda

    Well, I am glad you will continue your blogs. I have found that the really good books I have reread over the years have given me different satisfactions, probably depending on where I am at that time.

  2. Right on! Literature can indeed encourage us to address issues in our lives, & begin the healing process; we can learn both from positive examples, & negative; & we can just plain be entertained. Thanks for another insightful article.

  3. Glory MacTavish

    Beth I shared this article on my FB and Twitter pages. I love reading and your writing. Thank you. Glory MacTavish

  4. @jackieincincy

    On target as usual Beth! Books have educated me, taken me to foreign places, introduced me to much loved friends, and let me experience different situations. They can be cathartic and healing, as well as awakening and empowering! The Outlander series of books was all of that for me. Books are everything!

  5. Harriet Weber

    Beth, I think the reason I love your blogs, is because I feel as though I am sitting down with a great friend and having a talk over a cup of tea together! You are real and down to earth. You support, encourage, challenge, inspire and engage me like no other online has. I so appreciate all you say, and the time and risk involved in sharing! I am especially happy that you will be writing during the Droughtlander, or what I am calling “Withoutlander”, because this time is seems more difficult than the last break! But, we have the books, which I am reading on my third go round, and that’s what started it all in the first place. And, yes, on so many levels, the books and now the visuals (and the discussions online as well) have helped me to peel back places inside me and take a fresh look at them.. I am so grateful to you! Thank you!

  6. GGW

    See, this is why we beg you to continue blogging! I’m supposed to be preparing for a client meeting and instead I’m reading this post and want to read it again and again as it is the best description I’ve seen of what has been true in my own life! My husband boggles at how many books I read and he often wonders aloud about what the draw is. It’s been hard to explain to him that it is as much the act or process of reading that stimulates me as the content itself! The act of reading a well written book is to me what meditating or doing other calming pursuits is to others. The fact that I’m absorbing a great story or learning something new is not always the primary objective! I plan on passing this on to all my reader and non-reader friends to validate the former and maybe encourage the latter to pick up a good book! Thanks Beth!

  7. Chris Weller

    Beth, I enjoyed your essay and realized that I have experienced this also. Something is learned in every book I read.
    Chris Weller

  8. So lovely to read your positive insights into reading and the unique experiences we have when engaged in the process. You should create a Reading Club (not a book club) for your readers so that you could lead us in discussions of books and what they meant to us–just a great free-for-all discussion of any book that we loved! And then you could write a book about the Readers’ Club!

    You reminded me of just how long reading has been a part of my life; almost since birth. Listening at someone’s knees as they read to me; walking to the library to choose my own books; being given rare, first editions by a special teacher, and making discoveries of amazing books by DG! Thank you again for your topics that always seem to hit “home!”

  9. I’ve found writing is a compulsion – hard to just walk away from it and yes, this fandom gives a lot of fodder to write about! LOL This is so true – I’ve ‘escaped’ in books all my life. We are so blessed to have actors that have brought these particular characters to life so superbly.

  10. Trish

    Can books heal? Absolutely. I feel I am living proof. I have a very stressful life. Full time job, caregiver for terminally ill husband, caregiver for 88 year old mother and my brother is in hospice. When I read, I am able to truly get away from it all for a bit and be transported. I can let go of my troubles for awhile and give myself some time. Caregivers are always told to take time for yourself, but that is not so easily done. So yes, you could call reading books healing. I call it my lifeline.

    I truly enjoy your posts and thank you for giving me a bit of healing too!

  11. Marsha S

    I truly enjoyed this blog post. It brought back memories of me very little walking to the library and checking out my limit of books..and with that love I taught my boys to love to read. I used to think it was a girl thing, but am so glad my boys who are now fathers read…such a good example to their children (my granddaughters..I have 3 !) who also are readers…Books take you places that physically for some is impossible. It frees the mind to explore, escape, and can cause emotions to surface , so yes I do believe it can heal…Thank you for your blog posts and I am glad during droughtlander we will still be blessed by your words… 🙂

  12. Maury L.

    Another great insightful piece. Books have always been my saviors, for many reasons, but never more so than when Outlander. Took me to a peaceful place during chemo and again after a violent death. I attribute a great part of recovery to the healing power of books.

  13. Judy11

    Beth – not only do I lovee your explanation of how books affect us, but your initial thoughts on each reader bringing their own set of circumstances to the reading. I think some of the unhappy discussions that have taken place recently could use this to frame the book versus tv question also. Each one of us brings our own life experiences to what we read and see. Therefore, it is hard to imagine that any number of us have the exact same vision of either book of show. IIf more people would keep those thoughts in mind and respect each others’ life experiences, we would all be a better fandom for it.

  14. Jane Butkus

    When I first started to hear about blogs a few years ago, I thought they mostly were self- serving and even narcissistic. Since I entered the Outlander world, I have followed a few and found my mind changed. I have read some truly thought-provoking posts and yours, Beth, have really resonated the most with me. Keep doing what you do so well.

  15. Pat Rice Talma

    Beth, I love reading your blogs because you continue to be on point about things happening to do with the series and the books. Please keep on keepin’ on!!!! Every time I reread Diana’s books and get really engrossed in them, no matter what number reread it is, I find myself looking up and realizing I’m still in my own living room in my own home!!!

  16. Katie

    There’s no question that books can heal. And that, as a reader, your response to them changes over time. The first time I read DIA (before I had children), I didn’t like it because I spent so much time angry at Claire for pushing Jamie away. The second time was after I’d had my own rather dark bout of postpartum depression, and suddenly everything Claire did and said mirrored my life with PPD. It was profound! And while I had already recovered, reading DIA really helped me process what I had been through.

    And reading the entire series the second time (when my husband and I were just coming out of the early, incredibly difficult years of child-rearing) at a time when we were having difficulty reconnecting and reestablishing ourselves as a couple helped me understand how and why we needed to reestablish our emotional intimacy. Maybe we would have been able to do that without Outlander. I’d hope so. But why wouldn’t I accept this help if this is the form it took?

    I can understand if some readers don’t have that kind of reaction to these books, since not everyone responds the same way to everything. But I do hope they are able to find that kind of connection and response to something.

    • I totally get where you are coming from! I’ve gone back and read things and found new meaning based on where I was in my own journey! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  17. YPinonR

    As usual you never disappoint. “Experience taking” from book reading has enriched my whole life, made me a better person. I know how spies think & act, how rural England was, how soldiers in the Jacobite uprising felt & talked, the piety of the deeply religious heart’s beat, despair, extreme loneliness… been to places all over the world I never imagined existed… Because of reading. Yes & healed, too.

  18. I read Drums of Autumn, first, not knowing it was fourth in a series. I immediately bought the other 3 and read them. As each new book was released I bought it. Right away. So I have been reading and rereading these books for as lot of years. I am 831/2. I hope to still be here when # 9 is ready. I am in poor health, so hurry up Diana!, I have loved these characters, and some I did not like, but the story was always great and I am still in love with Jamie. In our minds I think we had a picture of Jamie bigger than life. Thank goodness Sam has been a perfect Jamie.
    Beth keep writing your blog. We will depend on it making us
    Able to survive until # 9. Arrives. Thank you so much. You are great too.
    Peg Van Horn

  19. Carla

    Perception. Everything you see, hear or read goes through your perception. Since it´s formed by your experiences and beliefs, it´s only natural that each person gets the message in a different way. Books open doors to other worlds and experiences let us peek into other people struggles and happiness. This helps us many times to put our own problems in perspective or see ourselves in some character shoes. So; can they have a healing effect? Sure thing if you let them.
    I prefer books to movies- but I´ve to admit this series has been great- because movies show you the directors vision of the story. When you read you create your own vision and therefore became more involved with what is happening.

  20. bookworkgirl

    Oh Beth, please keep writing. Love your blog and insights. I would say that I too felt healed after reading Outlander, as well as a renewed desire to write. I am working on a novel that now had 70k words and is “lovingly” re titled, The Never Ending DAMN F**KING Story. I am on rewrites, so hopefully it will end soon. Lol. Take Care.

  21. Patricia Hare

    Many thanks for insights Beth and readers!
    Books not only heal, educate and entertain but when we share our excitement about reading and a specific book with others it makes us happy 😃and that has to be good for your health!
    Having lead many a “book talk ” and book club discussion I encourage students and friends to find the relevance to their lives in the fiction book. ( Funny how many think because it is fiction there cannot be any truth in it! I try to point out that there is always some truth in fiction and some fallacies in non- fiction.)
    Can’t wait to read that novel of your Beth!
    Patricia

  22. Nickie

    I could not agree MORE, Beth. Fiction has in many ways, shaped the person that I have become. The Outlander series has very definitely seen me through a difficult time in my life. I read these stories over and over again to gain the strength that I need, as the characters in the series do. It is more than a simple vicarious experience; it is quite honestly, therapy.

    Thank you for your insightful post. Well, for all your posts…Nickie (an Outlander voyeur)

  23. Beth, am so glad you will be continuing your blog during the ‘hiatus’! Your writing – well I just wish I could clarify my thoughts as well as you. I think books can heal and provide insight and ‘experience’ without actually having to live through something. Diana’s books have taken me away from what I felt, at the time, were tremendous pressures. Looking back over twenty-some years, however, I find that they were just the normal, everyday kinds of pressures everyone feels at one time or another as they go through their life. The books have given me perspective, though I have to admit wondering many times how there could possibly even exist someone like Claire let alone Jamie. The show has been wonderful as well and Mr. Heughan’s Peak Challenge has brought friendships and lots more activity in my life. The only thing I wonder about, is how much is too much of a good thing!

  24. momentsintime

    Beth ~
    I am new to the Outlander Nation. Thank you for your graceful posts. I have with joy, anticipation and admiration watched (and of course re-re-re-watched) the entire STARZ Magnum Opus, AND…this April, binge purchased all of Diana Gabaldon’s Outander related Books, (just about to finish DIA), AND… have sent a shamefully sycophantic letter of sincere gratitude to Ms. Gabaldon, AND… left an equally heartfelt comment on the Variety site re: an article about episode 116. So my Outlander fever is of the 2nd cohort of (TV to Book). It seems apparent that my visceral reaction to the Gabaldon/Moore collaboration is universal. At 63 years old, (‘damned if I can figure out exactly what that’s supposed to mean) I find myself completely synchronous with the reactions of the readers/watchers who are dramatically moved and passionately attached to Outlander; gender and age notwithstanding! I am intrigued by the myriad of well-written responses (none more than yours and ‘LaQuinta Mary’) to the power, influence and motivational joy this story provides. It is just a thrill to hear how so many readers have kept their love and appreciation for these characters alive in their hearts for so many years. Imagine how inspiring that is to those of us who have been lucky enough to stumble on to Outlander; the prospect of such a lengthy relationship ahead of us! In addition to a nod to my own Scottish roots, my admiration for the Scottish Enlightenment has been rekindled and I am reacquainting myself with James Hutton, David Hume and Adam Smith among others. Outlander- a force to be reckoned with! Long may it flourish!
    Best, Jan

    • Wow! Thank you! And yes Ms Gabaldon’s books have completely ruined me! I read other things I just don’t enjoy them as much! And, here the best part for a newbie like you…the story only gets better!

      • momentsintime

        Beth,
        Your immediate and generous response is greatly appreciated. I am a rookie in all things social-media, so it is quite encouraging to not only hear back from you, but also such validation about the entire series.
        Many thanks. I look forward to a long and sustaining relationship, ~j

  25. Just jeanne

    Indeed … what would my life have been like without books. I grew up in Copenhagen, Denmark during “the big one” WWII, the war that defined my life, occupied by the enemy for five years.
    Living was restricted to staying home pretty much, so one read. My school was bombed by the British, by accident (yes, “friendly fire” happens against children too) (see internet “Bombing of French school, Jeanne D’Arc, 3/21/45”). So … living in and through books was literally a life saver, helped during air raids at 2 am also.

    I’ve been reading the Outlander books for twenty years, but since the t.v. series, I have been so overjoyed reading the intelligent, insightful, moving comments by you and all your readers. What a joy it has been in my very old age. Thanks, all of you. And especially you, Beth

    with love, J

  26. Carol Sanderson

    Dear Beth,
    As always, I enjoy your comments so much. Outlander, and the series, are my favorites for many reasons, and I have added two daughters and a daughter-in-law to the enormous fan club! I would add to your comments about different readers and their life experiences affecting their reaction to a book, which I agree is true. Additionally, for me, I have noticed the benefit of re-reading beloved books at different stages of my life. Perspective and life experience, including for me my evolution as a wife, then mother, then grandmother, have enriched and deepened my experience with each reading. Some books, like the Outlander series, reveal their layers in different ways to me as I revisit them, like old friends whose lives we better understand as we mature. Thank you for your insights, your blog is wonderful!

  27. I replied to this post back in June, but I’ll add something here. First Beth (Pixie), I love what you write and how and that it makes me think and appreciate.

    The ‘Reader Response’ is exactly what I was trying to get at in one of my blogs. The reader can get so wrapped up in the story and characters that they become very personal – and when it isn’t brought over to screen exactly how they ‘see’ it, it is very upsetting and frustrating. Because we all have unique backgrounds and experiences, some things that are vitally important to one person, others could care less about while they in turn have things critical that mean nothing to others.

    I re-read books that really get into my head – even the ‘fluff’ ones. There is a reason they got in my head. I tend to read very quickly and pick up specific things that jump out at me at that time. I can read the same book six months later and, because I am in a different ‘place’ mentally/emotionally, I find all new things to get in my head and ponder.

    Watching Outlander the series has been exciting for me because I’m getting to see a favorite story through a completely different set of eyes – in this case Ron’s. Not only someone with vastly different experiences than myself, but a male – to show me a vision of this I never could have imagined. Very cool.

  28. Just jeanne

    Soooo glad you and your readers are back. Missed you. I have a confession: I’ve not been able yet to watch two last shows, they’re sleeping in my DVR file. Can you give me courage?

  29. bwismer5

    Beth Just have to add my voice to the chorus of your grateful readers! I enjoy your insights so very much. And none more so than your descriptions of the joy and healing power of reading, which has sustained me all my life. In fact, one of the great regrets of my life is that my son (whom I brought to the library as soon as he could write his name) didn’t turn out to be as much of a reader as I. To be fair, his outlets have always been sports-oriented and his life is very harried raising young children, but still….I started the Outlander series as soon as the first book came out – and he was still in elementary school then. (I do recall wishing to be stranded on a desert island so I could finish one or another of Diana’s books…) At any rate, thank you so much for your incredible writing, and please keep it up. The healing nature of books has gotten me through some rough spots in my life – I can personally attest to that! Thanks again.

    • Thank you so much for taking the to write. It really means a lot to know people enjoy and relate to what I write! I feel you on the getting the kids to read thing! I did the same and neither of my kids is a reader, but the grandkids are!

  30. I’m a voracious reader and have been since I was a child. The first “adult books” I read were Gone With the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird and In Cold Blood – when I was 12 years old. YES, books have the power to heal, and do many other things, including “change” you. But, best of all – they make me THINK.

    I so enjoy your posts. Whatever you can find to write about, I will be interested in reading.

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