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The end of a story

I love to read and if you do too you can probably empathize with this. What is it about the end of a story that makes the disconnect so painful? Maybe painful isn’t the right word, jarring perhaps? Abrupt? Whatever the adjective you choose closing one book leaves a world of possibilities for the next, but for me, there is always a bit of a hangover jumping from one universe to the next. Leaving me to wonder if that’s a common phenomenon.

Last night marks the last book in the longest series I’ve read to date. I love long book series because I don’t have to worry about what to read after I finish one book. I’m a simple man, with simple pleasures and knowing that I have the to be read path outlined for me is the best feeling. Plus when you find a good book, you don’t want it to end and I’ve found my fair share of good books.

Now that isn’t to say I don’t read the lone publication, my reading history is littered with one and done books. But I always prefer to just exist in a micro universe that is a series for as long as possible so when I stumbled upon a series that was thirteen books long, of average book length — which is super important to me because I’ve found long series that were individually very short, and the best part it was finished (so no waiting for the next volume), I jumped at the chance to read it!

Getting to read thirteen books is a lot of books! So some quick math. I’ve averaged roughly one book a week, sometimes a bit faster, sometimes a bit slower. That means we’re looking at roughly ninety-one days, or thirteen weeks, or about three months of reading. Which for those keeping count is approximately a quarter of a year. So a significant amount of time in the microscheme of things. I’m a slow reader too, so I average about 100 pages in 3-4 hours each day. Again sometimes faster, sometimes slower, it just depends on how I’m feeling. For those interested that’s anywhere from 273 to 364 hours of reading to get through the series. Seeing it written out, I feel like that’s an overestimate somehow…

I genuinely don’t believe that I’ve spent that amount of time around school-PI since I’ve known him. I’ve also mentored people for shorter amounts of time. All that to say that a good series becomes a close part of your life when you read regularly. Currently (as of this writing) I’m at 110 weeks straight (exactly 110) and counting of reading daily. Which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you want to look at it I guess.. Is it intervention time? Maybe this is less of me noticing something and more of a plea for help… help finding more books that is.

Jokes aside the fact is that it’s a significant part of my life spent reading that series in particular and as with any series, no matter how long, it eventually ends. I have yet to find the infinite series I’m searching for… I’m always excited to finish a series (or standalone book for that matter), so it’s not a bad thing that it ends, it just means you need to remove yourself from that universe.

See, no matter what type of book you read in the great swath of fiction that exists, there are rules. A good story has a universe that has its own structure and no matter how different from our world, there are rules for how things behave. This basically applies to even the most absurd universes, like take for instance Alice in Wonderland, which if you’ve read it you know that the world in the book makes absolutely no sense, but that’s the rule of the universe, to not make sense. So you can therefore always count on it to keep to that rule, which makes sense of the nonsensical in a sensibly nonsense way.

So you get used to these rules and the characters. You watch people over the span of hours, days, weeks, months, years, however long the books are set for, as they grow and progress. It’s the whole reason to read really. Then you reach the ending and have to leave that little universe with its well known rules and storyline and you inevitably move on to another universe with its own rules and stories that are foreign. Rules that take time to get used to and figure out.

For me there’s always a bit of a hangover jumping from one universe to the next. The rules don’t make sense or they aren’t revealed yet. You have no bearing for what’s going on or how people will behave. Within a few pages into a new universe I read in horror as a character literally consumed a rare and one of a kind book. To what purpose? I didn’t know because the rules weren’t laid out to me prior to that introduction.

And I’m using the term universe here for a very good reason, much like Marvel has its cinematic universe, each book is a self contained universe all to its own. Our universe has a set of rules which we live by and we are very accustomed to. Really crappy rules and if you haven’t noticed the universe kind of sucks right now, but it’s ours so here we are living by the rules of the universe laid out to us. But the rules of our universe didn’t have to be the way they are.

So I imagine if we could literally jump to an alternate universe, it would be just as jarring as when I close one book and open the next. Without time to decompress, you have to adapt very quickly to this new world and while I could take a break between books, well where’s the fun in that? There’s so many different universes out there that are interesting to me, I don’t mind dealing with the discomfort from quickly hopping to the next universe.

Here’s the thing, I assume my experience is not uncommon. I don’t know that for certain though and I find that as I get older I hate making assumptions when the answers are right there. Thus, I’m doing something I don’t usually do and break the fourth wall for a moment.

Have you ever experienced that feeling?

6 responses

  1. The feeling you’re describing sounds immediately familiar, but I don’t get it from books too much. It’s video games that really do it to me. I have finished some of those and had it positively hurt. I’ve actually nicknamed it “post-video-game grief” because it almost does feel that bad. Television series are somewhere in between.

    When I interrogate the feeling, I don’t think my version of it is about the familiary of the fictional universe’s rules. It’s about the fact that I have, in some sense, made a home in it. I had anticipations, maybe even plans, for what was going to happen next. I built relationships with the people there. (My suspension of disbelief is excellent. I interact with video game characters and have feelings about them as if they were real people, even though I know they aren’t. Some of them turn into weird quasi-friends that I genuinely miss afterward.) So the issue with switching to a new game isn’t the strangeness of the new universe – it’s the loss of the old one. All that potential for continuing the story and the relationships, cut off, as if the version of me who lived in that universe had died.

    Starting something new too quickly does feel jarring – I like a little cooling-off period – but again, I don’t think this is about novelty. It’s more that starting something new would be a distraction from my memories of the old, and not give me time to process them. Like getting a new pet immediately after a previous one has passed on.

    I can tell this is what it’s about by considering a game that didn’t give me post-video-game grief: Witcher III Wild Hunt. That game was very compelling, most of all at the end, which for me was the Blood and Wine expansion. I cared about the characters, I was invested in what happened, and the results were significant on a personal level. But … it’s an open-world game. It doesn’t terminate when the primary plot line ends. You can still fool around in the countryside fighting monsters and doing little quests for as long as you want. So I did. I spent quite a few more hours on it after the story was over, and cleaned up everything I could find. And then I moved on … not because I was forced to, but because I’d exhausted everything that universe had to offer and was bored. So there wasn’t any sense of untapped potential; I didn’t leave with the feeling that I’d just been locked out of a universe that would keep living and developing without me. And I got plenty of time to marinate in the implications of the story (because even though the story was over, I was still in its world, still associating with it) before switching over to anything new.

    The video games have a stronger effect on me because of the interactivity factor, I think. That’s what really fools my brain into thinking I live there and they matter. TV series less so, because they’re not interactive, but the characters are still very present and alive – I get attached to them. I’m trying to think whether I ever felt a real sense of loss after finishing a book. It seems theoretically possible, but I can’t point at a book that did it to me. And I’ve read some pretty long series: The Wheel of Time, for instance. It’s called Wheel of Time because you can turn through an endless amount of time reading it (okay, not really). And my feeling at the end was “Glad we wrapped that up. Time to go read something else.” Granted, after about the fourth book the author started putting in a lot of filler, so it’s probably the same principle: I got bored out of the universe instead of thrown out.

    My mom often tells me that she wants books to go on forever and feels bad after finishing them, though. So there’s another data point for you.

    Even though we feel this way about different media and maybe for somewhat different reasons, I’m glad you can relate. It’s an annoying paradox: I want to finish media so I can turn my attention elsewhere (because there are so many good franchises, and I want to experience the full diversity), but I also want the thing I’m playing or watching right now to keep going endlessly. What should I do with myself? Haha

    Liked by 1 person

    June 12, 2022 at 2:41 pm

    • I’m glad it’s not just me! Different media totally counts! I feel the same way with video games, which is probably why I play Mass Effect so often!

      Elder scrolls is a lot like what you described, an open world where you can just keep doing stuff even after the main story ended, I haven’t played in awhile, but it was a lot of fun and you do get a decompression period to just basically exist in the world. I think for me it’s because I read more often than I can play games (sadly!), so it’s probably more noticeable on the book side vs. the game side.

      Liked by 1 person

      June 13, 2022 at 6:37 pm

      • I did a pretty exhaustive playthrough of TES: Oblivion round about my undergrad junior/senior year. The saved games track time spent, and I think I put ~200 hours into it (yikes). I went through conniptions to make sure Jauffre and Baurus survived the main quest. And then I would drop by Cloud Ruler Temple to visit them every so often, even though they never had anything new to say.

        Like

        June 13, 2022 at 8:14 pm

  2. I don’t think I’ve experienced that (since the truly absurd sense of loss I felt when Puff the Magic Dragon left at the end of the song. To be fair, I was very young, but it was nonsensical) but I’m an outlier. I never got why people would talk about how characters didn’t look like they did in their head, or how a good book is like watching a movie in their head, until I found out that people actually could see things in the head. Blew my mind. I close my eyes and there’s just black. I have no “mind’s eye” as it were.

    But I also don’t read long series. I was sad when I reached the end of Starship Troopers because the story was over, but it reached a satisfactory conclusion. Armor makes me sad because it ended with questions, and now Steakley is dead. Jurassic Park, Timeline, and so many others seemed to end because the author was sick of the work and never really made me feel like it was worth it to continue. The little pulp D&D stuff I read when I was younger really didn’t have a lingering effect, either.

    Maybe it’s because I don’t read long series, but it’s all just data. I can’t place myself in a work of fiction, it just exists as a story.

    Mark, the writer for Primordia, and I get into strange debates about that. I mean, he’s a lawyer, so he’d debate if rain was wet, but we have very, very different writing styles. I think like an engineer, building a world systemically. If I introduce a concept, it’s well grounded enough to satisfy me. He’s a well-read idealist, and writes old sagas or myths. He defends the Eagles in Return of the King because Odin would have trials, then turn into a bird and fly away at the end. It wasn’t about mechanics, the narrative demanded they be extracted by a bird, and that they arrive no sooner, and that’s all there is.

    Of course he often just sent me an animated GIF of “I am not a gun” during the early days of developing the world and machines of Trenchmouth, but to be fair, Hector was a gun trying to become a man.

    A useless sentence, since we never released anything more than that game jam entry. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    June 13, 2022 at 12:36 am

    • Oh interesting! Until recently (like a few years recent) I didn’t know people couldn’t visualize things like that. There are also people who have no inner dialog (like a voice inside your head narrating your life), which blows my mind. I’ve only encountered one person who was like that and they said they enjoyed reading, which was surprising to me. Maybe it’s weird to say, but I’m glad you’re on the other end of that. It makes total sense why a book may not be as immersive for you and really it’s wild how brains can be so different.

      Liked by 1 person

      June 13, 2022 at 6:43 pm

      • Yeah, I didn’t know people could see things in their head until I was around 37. It forced a deeper analysis of what people mean literally and figuratively with their base statements. It led to a rather fundamental rabbit hole and furthered my resolve to be a hermit, both for my sake and everyone else’s.

        Like

        June 14, 2022 at 4:34 am

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