The discussion of hypertext fiction in the past decade has often been dominated by the question of immersion. If the reader is asked to make choices or to follow links, doesn’t that distract them from the perfluent dream, from getting lost in the book?
Michael Dirda’s essay on reading “After The Golden Age” is a useful reminder here that grownups don’t read the way kids read. In those long mythic afternoons of your Golden Age, sure, maybe you did read Sherlock Holmes and Tolkien, thinking of nothing more than whether Sherlock would solve the puzzle or whether Frodo could ever evade the armies of Mordor.
You could do that because you didn’t know anything and you didn’t know better. You paid no attention to craft: books happen, like dinner, they’re not something you make, they’re something you expect and, if they don’t appear when needed, something you ask for. You didn’t argue with the author, either, because you were a kid and kids don’t argue with grownups (except their parents of course). You didn’t stop to compare Sherlock to Poirot or Spade or Wimsey or Longmire because you were a kid and you hadn’t yet met the others.
Sure, you can recapture some of that sense of immersion with the right book at the right moment. You can get something like it for a while in film and theater, and perhaps in some computer games. Wine is the thing that makes us happy for no reason: there’s a reason why sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll go together. Still, you can’t really go home again, and you only imagine that you want to.