I could not, no matter how hard I tried, figure out a more eloquent word for this post title. I was go to go with voyeur instead of privacy invader, but voyeur has too much of a sexual connotation, and I didn’t want people to be confused because this post is about so much more than just sex. Eavesdropper is also close to my meaning, but that generally only applies to listening. There’s snoop, but that usually applies to looking through phones, documents, etc. And spy just sounded too suave and mysterious. But anyway…
This post idea came about because of a couple specific things that I’ll explain below, and it ended up being a lot more serious than I thought it would be considering it was kind of a joke when I first had this thought. (Speaking of seriousness, *TRIGGER WARNING*: I will be talking about suicide in this post.) But it is a thought I had lately, and, well, when I have bookish thoughts, I share them! I’m a book blogger. It’s what I do. So let’s talk about it!
I was talking with someone one day over email about sex scenes in books when this thought kind of suddenly hit me and I just said, “All this talk about sex scenes has suddenly made me realize what voyeurs readers and writers are.” And I was kind of joking. There was an lol at the end of that sentence. And I kinda just forgot that I had even said it.
But then, even more recently, I came across this feeling of, well, not voyeurism I guess since that has a sexual connotation, but this even stronger feeling that I was invading a character’s privacy. I was reading a graphic novel and one of the characters decided he wanted to kill himself. (I won’t tell you what graphic novel or what character in order to avoid spoilers, so we’ll call him Pete.) I saved this picture of Pete about to kill himself because I like to save my favorite pictures from graphic novels in the same way I like to save quotes from regular books, and this picture was powerful and important and emotional. And I kept going back to this picture for some reason. And the more I looked at this picture, the more I realized that this had to be the lowest point in Pete’s life. The whole scene was the kind of thing he probably wouldn’t want anyone to witness were he thinking straight. But there I was, witnessing it. Seeing him at his lowest moment.
And that’s the thing, that’s what prompted this post. We see characters in their most intimate and private and lowest moments. We’re there when they have sex. When they attempt suicide. When they make mistakes. When they cry in the shower. When they feel ashamed or scared or hurt. When they lash out in anger. When they think no one’s looking. We’re in their heads even, privy to their deepest and most hidden thoughts and feelings and fears and desires.
But I’ve read about other characters attempting or committing suicide. And I’ve read about plenty of characters doing all the other things I just mentioned. Yet this was the first time I can recall truly feeling like some sort of privacy-invader. So what was it about this time? Was it simply because I was looking at pictures rather than reading which made it seem more like I really was just witnessing something I shouldn’t whereas with regular books, I kind of just feel like I’m part of the character and the stuff that’s going on? Or did I just feel more of a connection to this character? Or was it something about the character himself that made it seem like he specifically, more so than other characters, wouldn’t have wanted anyone to see him like that? Who knows.
But don’t worry, I am aware that the characters I read about are, in fact, not real people. One of my absolute favorite things about reading is this chance to be in someone else’s mind in order to gain more understanding of people and their experiences and struggles. So I love that I get to experience these intimate and private moments with them. But still, well-written characters feel real while we’re reading about them, and that does make it seem a little voyeurish or privacy-invading, doesn’t it? Maybe the takeaway here is that we should appreciate these types of private moments and thoughts and feelings even more when we get to read about them since they’re the things that we don’t normally get to see from most people in real life even though they’re the things that help us understand people more.