I have been a nerd my whole life. I was always “that kid,” the one who read in a corner at recess and talked about Jo March and Ponyboy as though they were real people. I have a vivid memory of myself at 8 or 9, staying up far past my bedtime to read Katherine Paterson’s “Bridge to Terabithia” by flashlight. When I reached the gut-wrenching ending, I began sobbing loudly enough to summon my mother from down the hallway.
As soon as she saw the book in my hand, she knew nothing was actually wrong. “I think I comforted you,” my mom told me recently. “I hope I didn’t say, ‘Stop crying, it’s not real.’ ” (She claims not to remember any details of this incident.)
When I told this story to Keith Oatley, a perfect stranger, he told me I didn’t need to feel silly for getting so worked up over the fates of fictional characters.
“You were just being a human being,” he said.