Wednesday, 4 May 2011

It's Wednesday morning tea time again...

What is reading really about?  Of course reading is about the book.  We all want to read "good books", and are always searching for the next "good book".  No one can have a good reading experience without a good book... or can they?  There have been occasions when my book group has come together to discuss a book that at least one member said she really didn't like, maybe didn't even finish, but by the end of the discussion, that same member admitted that she wanted to reread it, or finish it, because the group discussed aspects of the novel, or reasons for the characters' behaviour, or the author's intent, that made the novel more appealing to her.

So reading is about more than the book.  It's certainly about personal setting.  For me, there's something about a Wednesday morning, with a steaming cup of tea and classical music playing in the background that calls me to open a book and read.  It's a solitary time, a time to reflect, to learn, to allow a feeling of inner silence while the world goes about its busy-ness outside this cozy retreat.   Or on a bus heading to Toronto, as I've done so many times over the past four years, I can completely lose myself in a novel because there are no interruptions, nothing to distract me from the pages.  We often refer to "beach reads", those light, easy novels that don't require much concentration, because the book is not the main focus in those settings, the beach or holiday is.  I remember once years ago being at the beach in Toronto and I was reading Crime and Punishment.  Someone lying on the sand near me commented that this was definitely NOT the type of light reading one should bring to the beach in the summer.  This person may well have been right, as it took me forever to finish it!  Maybe I should have waited to read it in November, when I could focus a bit better.

Setting also goes hand-in-hand with mood.  There have been a number of times when I've read a book for the first time and either loved it or hated it, only to reread it at another time and have the exact opposite reaction.  It's important to choose a book that you feel like reading, and not to struggle with a book that you want to read but that is just not working for you at that moment.  I would advise that you put it down, take up something else, and try the first book again at another time.  You may find that it was just your mood at the time that was standing in the way of your ability to enjoy it.

Our reading experience is also made up of our personal reading history.  No book stands alone in a reader's encounter with it.  We are always referring to books we've read before, sometimes subconsciously, sometimes intentionally.  I read Lois Lowry's The Giver for the first time a few summers ago for a Children's Collection Development course I was taking, and I really enjoyed it.  I could see similarities with The Handmaid's Tale and 1984, both dystopian novels that I have read and found interesting.  I also found similarities with a short story I read long ago for a course I took for my undergrad degree, I think the title is "The Ones Who Walked Away From Omelas" by Ursula LeGuin.  I made these connections to my previous reading experiences, even going as far back as my undergrad days and a relatively obscure short story I read for an elective course I took, probably in 1990, which helped me to appreciate The Giver more fully.  If I had never read these other novels, how might my experience of The Giver been different?  In my opinion, you can never really "un-read" something, although I guess you can forget something that made absolutely no impression on you whatsoever.

Reading history leads me to the social aspects of reading.  Reading has always been perceived as a solitary activity.  But look how book clubs have increased in popularity over the past few years.  Everyone, it seems, belongs to a book group, which is great!  Reading can be a social activity, too!  As I mentioned at the very beginning of this post, sometimes a book that seems uninteresting after a personal reading can seem better, or more interesting, after a group discussion.  Everyone in the group brings their own reading and personal history to the book, and so everyone's experience of a book is going to be different.  Sharing this with others can be a wonderful experience, and I would certainly encourage anyone who may have an interest in joining a book group but hasn't yet done so to find a group and go to one or two meetings.  It's amazing how you can learn from this experience, and be encouraged to read books you never would have tried otherwise. 

And so we've come full circle.  Reading is about the book, and it is a personal, solitary activity.  It is affected by the setting and mood of the reader, and it can be enhanced by sharing your personal reading experience with others.  I'm sure there are many other aspects I haven't even considered here, but I'm running out of time. 

Bye for now!
Julie

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