I've been thinking a lot about how much harder it is to make a reader think than to make a reader feel.
Making our audience emote is usually considered to be a great thing, whether you're an artist or a filmmaker or a novelist, but recently I've become very aware of how much feeling I'm being asked to do when I could be taking something more from an experience. And once I started noticing this tendency in all modern entertainment to try to wring tears or laughter from me, I began to really resent it. For instance, someone recommended the American TV series Bones to me. It's quite entertaining. It has a lot of incidental music and close-ups and moments of angst-ridden meaning when we're reminded that the protagonist's parents disappeared and she NEVER SAW THEM AGAIN. Last night I watched an episode in which the protag. finally opened the Christmas parents her parents had left for her before their disappearance, fifteen years ago. I cried. And then I felt really stupid. I'd just been manipulated into crying, once again. I'd wasted emotion on that programme. By the end of the day, after all this being poked into emotion-emitting, I'm a dried-out husk of a person.
I'm not saying I want to just watch and read intellectualised art. I'm just saying that when we have been made to really consider a situation, a character, an event - that's when we are truly immersed in the experience. Then just the slightest emotion can have huge resonance. We don't need disappeared parents and rousing music.
A good example of this has to be The Course of the Heart by M. John Harrison. Three students get involved in some sort of mystic rite and it has repercussions throughout their lives. Not obvious, demon-chasing repercussions. There's no pentacles and big fat devils (although I haven't quite reached the end yet). There are constructions of realities that nobody can escape. They live quiet, scared lives as a consequence.
It has been hurting my brain to read this book because I had to do some thinking about it. What's the last book that really made you think, rather than feel?