I dis­cov­ered that there was a beach in Jerusalem a few months after my book was pub­lished in Hebrew. One day, as I was vis­it­ing my par­ents, I met my father’s child­hood friend from Jerusalem, Yuval. He asked me why I named my debut short sto­ry col­lec­tion Jerusalem Beach. I told him the name came from one of the sto­ries about an elder­ly woman, named Lil­ian, who has Alzheimer’s. One of the only mem­o­ries she has left is of vis­it­ing a snowy beach in Jerusalem as a child. Her hus­band, Sam­my, knows this mem­o­ry is prob­a­bly a con­struct of her imag­i­na­tion, but decides to trav­el with her to look for the beach, in the hopes that will help the woman he loves. I explained that, like Lillian’s mem­o­ry, I want­ed the title to give read­ers a feel­ing of some­thing famil­iar that does not real­ly exist, just like a beach in Jerusalem. Yuval laughed. That is a nice answer, but you got one thing wrong,” he said, Lil­ian is right. There was def­i­nite­ly a beach in Jerusalem.”

This was a strange dis­cov­ery that con­tra­dict­ed every­thing I knew about geog­ra­phy at that point in my twen­ties, as well as any map I had ever seen. Like every per­son in Israel, I knew that Jerusalem was a city in the moun­tains, far from the Mediter­ranean Sea; Yuval told me that when he was a child he vis­it­ed Jerusalem beach sev­er­al times. I was even more puz­zled. How could one have mem­o­ries from a place that did not exist? A place that until that moment, I was sure appeared only in a short sto­ry I wrote.

Yuval care­ful­ly explained. He told me that his father, Dr. David (Bibi) Neev, a well-known Israeli geol­o­gist, did a lot of field research in​the moun­tains of Jerusalem; some­times he would take Yuval as a small child to the places he worked and show him the beach.

Like every per­son in Israel, I knew that Jerusalem was a city in the moun­tains, far from the Mediter­ranean Sea.

But you just said he worked in the moun­tains,” I told him, con­fused. He just smiled.

Today it is a moun­tain range, but geol­o­gists go back in time in their work, learn­ing the his­to­ry of the earth. And many mil­lions of years ago there was a sea called Tethys Sea exact­ly where Jerusalem stands today. He liked to take me to see the fos­sils of marine crea­tures, evi­dence of the sea that once exist­ed there.” Yuval also told me that when he showed the book to his father, who was in his nineties, he was very moved. It remind­ed him of his days as a young geol­o­gist, and he imme­di­ate­ly said: I am sure the author wrote this book espe­cial­ly for me.”

This sto­ry about Yuval’s father taught me two impor­tant lessons. First, that appar­ent­ly basic geol­o­gy can be cru­cial knowl­edge when you choose a book title. But sec­ond and more impor­tant, that the dif­fer­ence between fic­tion and real­i­ty is often much more blurred than it seems. A place I was sure I had cre­at­ed in my imag­i­na­tion had, in fact, exist­ed many years before in the mem­o­ries of others.

The great Eng­lish writer Vir­ginia Woolf wrote that writ­ing is the pro­found plea­sure and being read the super­fi­cial.” I admire Woolf. She is one of the great­est writ­ers I have read, but on this spe­cif­ic issue I tend to dis­agree. For me, as a read­er and a writer, lit­er­a­ture is a dia­logue not a mono­logue. Many of my favorite books are the ones that made me feel for a moment that some­one else was able to artic­u­late a deep feel­ing that I had but did not know how to express in words. From my expe­ri­ence as a read­er, I tru­ly believe that books are not writ­ten and then pas­sive­ly read by their read­ers, but rather cre­at­ed togeth­er with them. The encounter between the read­er’s eyes and the text is the final and most inte­gral part of the cre­ative process, and with­out it, the book would be incomplete.

There was a time when I fre­quent­ly asked myself what place books have in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, in a world where one can watch thou­sands of shows on Net­flix and be exposed to end­less con­tent on social media. But after what hap­pened with Yuval’s father, I real­ized that while the most advanced cam­era can­not enter anoth­er per­son­’s con­scious­ness, books can do just that; it is because they are incom­plete with­out the imag­i­na­tion of their read­ers. And just as the old geol­o­gist taught me that there was anoth­er lay­er of mean­ing to my sto­ry, every meet­ing between a book and a read­er recre­ates the sto­ry in a dif­fer­ent way, again and again.

Iddo Gefen was born in 1992 in Israel and cur­rent­ly resides in Tel Aviv. He is an author and neu­rocog­ni­tive researcher at the Vir­tu­al and Aug­ment­ed Real­i­ty Lab at the Sagol Brain Insti­tute. There, he leads an inno­v­a­tive study to diag­nose aspects of Parkin­son’s dis­ease using sto­ry­telling and aug­ment­ed real­i­ty. His first book, Jerusalem Beach, received the Israeli Min­is­ter of Cul­ture’s Award in 2017.