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Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Do We Understand The Book Reader?
book promoter and writer I often speak about the news media, the art of
writing, and the importance of books.
But I, and others, rarely discuss the act of reading and the role it
plays in our lives.
book, perhaps the best one I’ve ever come across on the subject, A Reader on Reading (Yale University
Press, 2010, by Alberto Manguel), explores all aspects of book reading. He even seeks to answer this question: Can the ideal reader help the writer? He writes:
every reader knows, literature is an act of shared responsibility. And yet to suppose that this mutual act
allows us to know the goal the writer has set herself, a goal that in most
cases is not revealed even to the writer, is either simple-minded or fatuously
arrogant. To paraphrase another author,
a book is what it is. Whether the writer
achieved what she intended, even knew what she intended to achieve anything at
all except what appears between two covers is a mystery that no one, not even
the writer, can answer truthfully. The
inappropriateness of the question comes from the richness and ambiguity that
are, I believe the true achievements of literature.”
relationship of writer-reader is a hard one to describe. The writer creates, the reader responds or
observes. Any kind of give and take interaction happens indirectly,
separately. The writer pours his heart
out and then the reader judges what to adopt and what to discard. Or, a real interaction could take place,
after the book’s writing and the reader’s reading of it, in person, by phone or
online. But there isn’t a true a
dialogue taking place. It’s more of a
snapshot of a retrospective, a post writing-reading analysis and not a real-time
debate or interaction of the writer being in the moment of creation and the
reader simultaneously reading the words.
not believe most writers write for their readers. They write in hopes that readers will come to
appreciate their words. Of course, some writers are commercial-minded and
merely want to bang out whatever will sell, whatever it is that readers seem to
want. Perhaps the best writer takes both
into consideration. He or she writes
from the heart, from experience, and from a creative vantage point, but instead
of just unloading a stream of indecipherable consciousness, he makes some
attempt to shape his work into something that readers can understand and find
best writer lets her mind and soul lead the way. She writes, unapologetically and daringly
confronts the truths, lies, and unknowns in life. She questions as much as she espouses,
shaping our thoughts as she struggles to gather her own. But she finds a way to connect the dots
between her world and the one fully outside of her.
has a chapter on the definition of the ideal reader. Perhaps Ralph Waldo Emerson summed it up best
when he said: “one must be an inventor
to read well.” But Manguel also notes
scores of traits of the ideal reader, including these:
ideal reader exists in the moment that precedes the moment of creation.”
readers do not reconstruct a story: they re-create it.”
ideal reader is an associate reader and reads as if all books were the work of
one ageless and prolific author.”
a book from centuries ago, the ideal reader feels immortal.”
ideal reader reads to find questions.”
the ideal reader, every book reads, to a certain degree, as an autobiography.”
ideal reader is a ruthless enforcer of the rules and regulations that each book
creates for itself.”
ideal reader must be willing, not only to suspend disbelief, but to embrace a
readers change with age. The
fourteen-year-old reader of Pablo Neruda’s Twenty
Love Poems is no longer its ideal reader at thirty. Experience tarnishes certain readings.”
much goes into a reader’s experience.
It’s hard to determine what shapes a reader and provides the biggest
qualification for how he or she will come to understand, interpret, appreciate,
and react to what was read. Here are at least 31 factors that likely play a
role in what will influence or impact a reader:
reader’s age and stage of life.
age-appropriateness of the book.
I.Q. of the reader.
education level of the reader.
quantity, quality, and variety of books read in the past.
past experiences of the reader.
the reader was raised – at home and the neighborhood environment.
readers race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation.
well the reader understands and commands the language.
psychological make-up of the reader.
one reads when tired, under the influence of medication, illegal drugs, alcohol
or some other mind-altering substance.
much knowledge or experience the reader has on the subject he is reading about.
era the reader lives in at present – and the times the writer lived during the penning of the book.
the reader is an optimist or pessimist.
economic status of the reader.
the reader chose to read the book and what, if any, assumptions or preconceived
notions he read it under.
reader’s awareness of the writer’s life and/or experience in reading the
author’s prior writings.
reader’s familiarity with the genre and competing titles.
reader’s biases, prejudices, fears, and desires.
the reader was in the middle of an emotional high or low while reading the
status – siblings, parents, grandparents, great grandparents, kids.
24.If you were ever a victim or perpetrator of a crime.
25.If you were ever in a life-threatening situation.
you’ve traveled to.
you live or have lived (regionality) 31, The book's subject matter and quality of content
bring their lives to the table every time they take on a book. Every bit of
knowledge, experience, or fantasy plays a role in how the reader consumes a
book. The decision to read a particular
book has already shaped, to a degree, the perceived experience or fantasy
plays a role in how the reader consumes a book.
The decision to read a particular book has already shaped, to a degree,
the perceived experience a reader cold have of the book. Readers determine if they like a book for any
number of reasons. Did it:
them feel something?
them with a memorable experience?
a good insight?
them question something?
them inspiration, motivation, or enlightenment?
them to feel accepted, understood, even desired?
them an escape to a world they’d otherwise not experience?
laughter and smiles?
them understand the world or themselves?
them want to take an action step?
productive thoughts and ideas into their frame of mind?
can help readers in so many ways, perhaps ways even the reader is not aware of
or are easily understood. Perhaps a book
has more value years after reading it, helping to put into context a life that
at the time of the reading was not ready for it.
if impacted by a book, will start to live out what they read. They will share the book with others or they
will go out of their way to condemn it.
Many books are not read with neutrality in mind. The readers want to like it – or they are
ready to hate it. If a book is merely
mediocre, it does more harm than a lousy book.
The worst is for a book to not make you feel or think something.
many things can influence the reading experience, not just the background,
state of mind or experiences of the reader.
There’s the book itself and how it impacts the reader. There’s the reading environment – the
location and setting of where the reading takes place. The lighting.
The chair. The level of alertness
of the reader. The time available to
read the book. The current climate of
society – what’s going on in the world and what times of year are you reading
influence guiding a reader is the reader’s expectation going into it. Does the reader have reason to think the book
will be of a certain quality or theme – and does the book live up to such
expectations? Does the reader know much
about the book or author going into its reading? Did the reader see many reviews, author
interviews, or media coverage of the book?
Was it recommended reading by a close friend or trusted source?
the book’s packaging, title, back cover copy, or a testimonial draw the reader
into expect something? Did the cover
imagery seduce the reader but not deliver as hoped for?
people read books for different reasons and no two people experience a book in
exactly the same manner. Even though
books are mass produced, the reading experience is highly personal, intimate,
and customized. Readers – and how they
read – play a key role in what gets published and how writers write. The process of reading is fascinating. Here are excerpts from Manguel’s delightful
believe that we are, at the core, reading animals and (the art of reading, in
its broadest sense, defines our species.
We come into the world intent on finding narrative in everything: in the
landscape, in the skies, in the faces of others, and, of course, in the images
and words that our species creates."
words with experience and experience with words, we, readers, sift through
stories that echo or prepare us for an experience, or tell us of experiences
that will never be ours, as we know all too well, except on the burning page.
Accordingly, what we believe a book to be reshapes itself with every
reading. Over the years, my experience,
my tastes, my prejudices have changed: as the days go by, my memory keeps re-shelving,
cataloging, discarding the volumes in my library; my words and my world except
for a few constant landmarks – are never one and the same."
remains invariable is the pleasure of reading, of holding a book in my hands
and suddenly feeling that peculiar sense of wonder, recognition, chill, or
warmth that for no discernible reason a certain string of words sometimes
believe that sometimes, beyond the author’s intentions and beyond the reader’s
hopes, a book can make us better and wiser."
our book-centered societies, the craft of reading signals our entrance into the
ways of the tribe, with its particular codes and demands, allowing us to share
the common source of recorded words;."
must make books theirs."
7. "I am
wary of seeing in one man’s reading, however brilliant that reading might be, a
reflection of his own self."
as we know all too well does not offer solutions, but poses good
conundrums. It is capable, in telling a
story, of laying out the infinite convolutions and the intimate simplicity of a
moral problem, and of leaving us with the conviction of possessing a certain
clarity with which to perceive not a universal but a personal understanding of
can slow down or speed up our reading, but whatever we do as readers, the
passing of time will always be clocked by the turning of a page. The page limits, cuts, extends, censors,
reshapes, translates, stresses, defuses, bridges, and separates our reading,
which we arduously attempt to reclaim.
In this sense, the act of reading is a power struggle between reader and
page over the dominion of the text.
Usually, it is the page that wins."
unread, the book is a deadly weapon."
fierce paradox exists at the heart of every school system. A society needs to impart the knowledge of
its codes to its citizens so that they can become active in it; but the
knowledge of that code, beyond the mere ability of deciphering a political slogan,
an advertisement, or a manual of basic instructions, enables those same
citizens to question that society, to uncover its evils and attempt a
change. In the very system that allows a
society to function lies the power to subvert it, for better or for worse. So the teacher, the person appointed by that
society to unveil to its new members the secrets of its shared vocabularies,
becomes in fact a danger to that same society, a Socrates able to corrupt the
youth, someone who must on the one hand rebelliously teach civil disobedience
and the art of critical questions and on the other submit to the laws of the
society that has assigned the teacher’s position – submit even to the point of
self-destruction, as was the case with Socrates. A teacher in forever caught in this double
bind: to teach in order to make students think on their own, while teaching
according to a social structure that imposes a curb on thinking."
is no such thing as a school for anarchists, and yet, in some sense, every
teacher must teach anarchism, must teach the students to question rules and
regulations, to seek explanations in dogma, to confront impositions without
bending to prejudice, to demand authority from those in power, to find a place
from which to speak their own ideas, even if this means opposing, and
ultimately doing away with, the teacher herself."
service is paid to the concept of literacy and books are officially celebrated,
but effectively our schools and universities are becoming mere training grounds
for the workforce, instead of places in which curiosity and reflection are
to go further and deeper, to have the courage to face our fears and doubts and
hidden secrets, to question the workings of society in regard to ourselves and
to the world, in order to learn to think, we need to learn to read in other