Reading Books with Aphantasia (for me)

This is a question I get pretty frequently once someone understands what Aphantasia is. 

“If you can’t see anything in your head, what on earth do you get out of reading a book?”

In case you do not know, people with Aphantasia (it’s me, I’m one of them!) are unable to form mental imagery in their heads. 

You know, like all those times people say shit like, “I can see it in my head!” or “I’m picturing it now!”…

They mean it. 

Those aren’t just turns of phrase. 

So, when I tell people I have Aphantasia, after they get done trying to get me to “picture” things in my brain, they remember that I am a voracious reader and ask me:

“Wait, so how does this work?”

Also, full disclosure, I currently have the runny nose from hell. No fever, no cough, just a lot of snot. I got paranoid this afternoon and took a Covid test, but it is negative, so my streak persists. 

I wish this nose would stop persisting though. I keep obsessively checking my temperature to make sure nothing has changed. Nothing has. I am still no fever, all snot. I suspect it might be 100 years of dust.

Ok, so books. What do I get out of them?

I’ve think about this a lot, because I do love reading and I always have. 

But I definitely don’t picture what is happening in the books. I read the worlds and my brain takes them in and absorbs the story.

I dunno, that is the best word I can think of for it. 

So, of course, then I start thinking about the things I read most frequently. 

They are mostly stream of consciousness books. Totally contained in the narrator’s head. 

I’ll read other things, but they don’t hit as well for me.

The Lie by Chad Kultgen

One of my favorite examples of the stream of consciousness writing that I love best is literally anything by Chad Kultgen, but in particular “The Lie”, which I find to be his strongest work. 

In “The Lie”, Kultgen deftly juggles three narrators with clear voices and tics and it’s wonderful. I can pick that book up at any page and get sucked right back in, the character I hate the most (none of them are likeable) rotating from chapter to chapter. 

I’ll read “normal” books, too.  You know, typical third or first person narrated with lengthy, flowery descriptions.

But I skip whole swaths of text in those. Because lengthy descriptions are just like a list of words to me. I know what they mean, but I can’t put them together into a full picture. 

So, I’ll move on to something with feelings or moods or conversation. I’m sure I miss a lot, but I don’t get anything out of it anyways. 

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marsha Pessl

Then there are other books, like my most recommended book of all time, “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” by Marisha Pessl. Now this is more of a straightforward, first person book where the narrator talks more about things that are happening vs. their reactions to them. 

And it works for me somehow. I think part of it is the fact that Pessl includes a couple visual aids so that we can be sure that we’re picturing the same people.

Plus, the book is compelling as all hell. It defies traditional genres – you could call it a High School Book, but it is also one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read. Even moreso, it’s a story of a Father/Daughter relationship. 

If they ever make it into a movie or limited series, they’re sure to ruin it. 

They’ll lose the magic and try to make it more scandalous that it is – and it’s plenty drama-y on it’s own. I mean, it’s about high schoolers. Who’s more dramatic than high schoolers. 

And, if they make it into anything, they’ll be sure to miscast it. 

This is the part that I cannot explain. I get MAD when a movie isn’t cast how I expected the characters to look. 

How in the heck did I expect them to look any way?! I can’t picture them! I skip over the big descriptive paragraphs, aside from getting the main facts so I can file them away in my card catalogue, but I don’t have an image of any of the characters I read about in mind ever.

It’s more of a feeling, I guess. 

The best example of this is “The Circle” by Dave Eggers. One of my top 10 books of all time… and easily the worst adaptation I’d ever seen of something I loved that much. 

Why was Tom Hanks in that role? It didn’t feel right at all. It felt like they wanted to make a prestige movie with fancy actors, but didn’t give two shits about the source material. 

It was bastardized and deserves a redo in the form of a limited series. Anyone wanna hire me for that? I’ll throw in the sequel for half price. 

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Then, there’s Sally Rooney. I didn’t discover her until last year, thanks to D insisting I watch “Normal People” which lead me to reading “Normal People” which lead me to read everything else Sally Rooney has ever written.

I cannot explain why I love her books so much. She describes literally everything, down to the tiniest detail of time, but I read every single word. I don’t skip shit in a Sally Rooney book. 

I can’t picture anything she’s talking about, but I don’t skip a dang word. 

This morning I was thinking about why that could be and I think it’s because her descriptions are so elegant, I want to see her “at work”. 

Like, I can’t picture the characters, but I wish someone would describe me the way Sally Rooney describes her characters. 

I think I explained how reading works for me? If not, ask me a question and I’ll elaborate. Y’all know I like typing. 


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