What? I asked.
The black hole is the page when you don't want to stop reading, he explained. Not the page where you get interested, or the page where you decide to read the whole book. The page where the book becomes the main thing you're thinking about when you're doing other stuff and want to be reading instead. The point where the book sucks you in.
Some books never have a black hole page at all, and for some books, the black hole is on page one. It's a super-subjective thing, because one person's hook is another person's sharp shiny death. But all of the spine-prickling terrific books I've read have had this quality, a point where I'm like, okay, you got me, I'll follow you anywhere.
I'm reminded of this concept all the damn time. In part because I read a lot, and I know a black hole when I see one, and in part because I'm a writer and want to know how to be sure I've written a black hole myself. I think about it a lot. I wonder how it applies to short stories. I wonder how some books (not many, thank goodness) manage to reverse polarity and make you drift right back out after the black hole snagged you a couple hundred pages earlier.
Usually when I start reading something, my brain's clicking away with half a dozen other functions, keeping track of time and blood sugar level and surroundings, interpreting what the writer's up to both in front of and behind the curtain, wondering how long it took the writer to write this and get published, how many trunk manuscripts he'd gathered before he wrote this, etc etc. Sometimes, though, those things drop away in whispers, one by one, and I'm totally absorbed in nothing else but what's on the page. This is a magic moment, getting lost in a book, and I mourn for people who "don't like to read", because nothing compares to it. Nothing.
Recently I started reading Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, and I had one of the clearest black-hole moments I've had in years. The prologue (? first chapter? it's numbered zero) is so beautifully written, such a perfect, perfect hook, that I want to photocopy it and send it to half the people I know with "ISN'T THIS AWESOME???" written in the margin. It was an absorbing few pages, and when I was finished I wanted to e-mail the writer all the clapping gifs I knew of.
|Well done, sir.|
|As good as an opera with Susan Alexander.|
|My kicky scarf grudgingly accepts that you write well.|
Another one I remember from recent years is the first chapter of The Passage, by Justin Cronin. I haven't read the entirety of that book, just the first couple of chapters and then skimmed some of the rest. I believe it might be one of those sad reversed-polarity books, because although the first chapter hooked me like a trout, the rest of it seemed too Crichton-y in structure for my taste. Good in its individual scenes, but then you have to reboot everything to switch back to the other cast of characters.
And then there was Pastoralia, the only book I've ever loved so much I was reading it at stoplights.
Anybody want to share their favorite black holes with the class?