How should one read?

I was reading the NYT Article: Reading with Imagination by Lily Tuck hoping it would help me improve my reading and imagination skills. Bad habit always takes over when I get lost in the sea of words that I jump to the comment section searching for aid to understand the article.

One of the commentators is RC and by far this helps me tremendously what he shared, assuming that RC is a male.

Now, to my point. I am not a writer, and really not a reader either. I have a retinal defect, since birth, that has made me a very slow reader. So, it has been hard to read for pleasure or enlightenment. I have usually, most of my life, just read what I needed to read for my work.

Now there is a new e-reading tool that reformats longer sentences into a cascading, somewhat poetic, layout, using syntactic parsing algorithms. This has improved my work reading accuracy, retention and efficiency a lot. Other people with mild dyslexia also use it.

[…]

Here is your article, displayed with the tool: Live Ink: Walker~ Reading With Imagination by Lily Tuck.

A vast difference! Thank you, RC.

In response to my question “How should one read?”  Read the comment sections, you’ll never know what tips and tricks you will find other than the article.

Reading With Imagination.
  By Lily Tuck.

  "Reading,"
    Jean-Paul Sartre
      writes
         in his essay
      'What Is Literature?',
          "is a pact of generosity
             between author and reader.

  Each one trusts
     the other;
             each one counts
              on the other,
    demands
      of the other
       as much as he
        demands
         of himself."

  Literature,
        he maintains,
          is a shared experience,
         and a literary
      work's reception
        and success
          is integral
         to it.

  "What the writer
    requires
         of the reader
    is not
     the application
      of an abstract freedom
          but the gift
      of his whole person,
            with his passions,
              his prepossessions,
            his sympathies,
             his sexual temperament,
               and his scale
             of values."

  Every author,
        he believes,
          constructs his work
             from notions
         about the implied
      or potential reader;
         in other words,
        in choosing his reader,
         the author
        chooses his subject.

  Thus,
    since in Sartre's view
   a literary work
        is a such close collaboration
         between writer and reader,
    it must necessarily follow
        that a "good" reader
    produces
      "good"
        literature
         while a "bad" one,
    "bad" books.

  "The bad novel,"
     Sartre
    writes,
      "aims to
          please by flattering,
    whereas the good one
      is an exigence
        and an act of faith."

  Reading,
    Sartre
      goes on
     to say,
        is predicated
          on personal concerns
      and experiences
        and there is no such thing
         as a totally objective reader,
    a tabula rasa
     without tastes,
        opinions,
         loves.

  It is certain that the
      "The Aeneid"
         got
          a different reading (hearing?)
       in Virgil's time
         than it
          does today.

  Equally,
    a Nabokov scholar
        and a family therapist
   would read "Lolita"
      quite differently,
            neither of them
             being right
               or wrong.

  It is not,
        then,
          the different textual
         interpretations
       that are
         at stake
           -- the more
     the merrier,
    in fact --
      but instead it is
         the approach
          to the act
            of reading
           that matters.

  This approach
      does not rely on
         the tastes or the qualifications
           of particular readers
     -- the feminists,
        the Tea Party members,
         the liberals --
      but rather on how
          exactly people
            read.

  So how
       should one
         read?

  In the Middle Ages,
    reading
      was regarded
        as a contemplative act.

  It was lectio divina
       and limited
          to sacred texts that,
                for the most part,
                  were read out loud
                 and optimally,
                the words
              read
                were repeated
              by the listeners
                 in order
                to fill body
                 and soul
              with their significance.

  Reading
    then was essentially a form
         of prayer.

  Today,
        however,
          most people
      read
             to be informed
      and instructed
        — where
         to take a vacation,
            how to cook,
              how to invest their money.

  Less frequently,
    the reasons
      may be escapist
     or
        to be entertained,
    to forget
     the boredom
         or anxiety
          of their daily lives.

  These are valid reasons,
    but I
   believe most
      of the reading one
    does
     for these reasons
    is actually
      a "bad" practice
         for reading
        literature.

  What's more,
    our ability
      to read
         for pleasure
    is taxed
      by the amount of reading
        we do.

  There is
      such a glut
         of blogs,
            emails,
              texts
          and tweets
            that
             the distinction
               between literary works
             and nonliterary works
            has become badly blurred
              and
           people tend
          to read everything
            in the same way,
              pragmatically.

  Literature
    has no single
      or simple definition
       and is not
          merely "imaginative" writing.

  Biographies,
        histories,
      diaries,
        essays
          are rightly
       read
         as literature,
        as they combine
         the statement
           of facts
         with ideas and personal values
      and often do so
         in unusual or pleasing language.

  One does not read
      Samuel Pepys's "Diary"
        for a factual account
          of the London fire
       but
         for his style and point of view,
    just as one
      does not read
        Gore Vidal's "Lincoln"
         for the facts
     of the 16th presidency
      since more than 15,000 books
        have been published
      on the subject,
    but
     for Vidal's wit,
        intellect and insights
         on personal ambition.

  Fiction,
    which
      I believe
    suffers most
         from modern readership,
    is by definition not factual.

  It may be
      about the real world
         and
          it may try
    to illuminate
      some facts
          about the real world
             or
               how real people
    behave in it
     or,
    as is so often
     the case
         in modern literature,
    it may also be
      about the impossibility
          of portraying
    any such reality
      since the very nature
         of art
    is artifice.

  Primarily,
        however,
          fiction
      (and biography,
            essay,
              history,
            memoir only
             perhaps to a lesser degree)
         is a creative act,
    an act
      of the author's imagination
         and likewise,
            ideally,
              it should be read
             with imagination.

  In my own writing,
    I have been accused of
      (or is it praised for?)
         being a minimalist,
        which
           I suppose
          means that I
            don't write a whole lot.

  This is true.

  For the most part,
    I avoid adjectives
         and
       I definitely avoid adverbs,
    which
      also means
        that
          I tend
       not
             to describe much.

  I rarely describe
      what my characters
    look like
      or what they wear
       or
   how they
        do their hair.

  My hope
    is that this
      will either not
        be important
         or
           if it is important
        it will somehow surface
      within the text.

  But better yet,
    by avoiding
        descriptions and explanations,
          I allow
         the reader
           the freedom
        to picture
          for themselves
              what my characters,
    their clothes
        and haircuts look like,
          and thus
            to participate
          in the text.

  In other words,
    I hope my readers
      will read my work
         with imagination.

  In his book
     "The Act of Reading,"
        Wolfgang Iser,
          known
       for his reader-response theories,
         writes that ideally a book
        should transform a reader
      by "disconfirming"
         his habitual notions
      and perceptions
       and thus forcing him
         or her
      to a new understanding
        of them.

  Take,
        for example,
          the beginning of
      "A Hundred Years of Solitude"
         by Gabriel García Márquez.

  "Many years later,
    as he
        faced the firing squad,
          Colonel Aureliano Buendía
        was to remember
          that distant afternoon when
       his father
          took him
              to discover ice."

  Here the reader
    is shown ice as if
      for the first time,
            as a sort
             of miracle,
            firing his imagination
           and making him
            see something commonplace
             as something new.

  Or look at the opening
         of "The Blue Flower,"
    the stunning
      and wholly imagined life
        of the young
          German Romantic poet Novalis
         by Penelope Fitzgerald:
      "Jacob Dietmahler
        was not
          such a fool
        that he
          could not see
       that they had arrived
          at his friend's home
              on the washday."

  Another writer,
    a more ordinary writer,
        as Julian Barnes
          points out,
             would simply have written,
      "Jacob Dietmahler
        could see
       that they had arrived ..."

  With no preamble,
    Fitzgerald
      then goes on
        to provide
         the reader
           with the most intimate details
             of a family,
        their dirty laundry.

  Why not
       begin by describing
         the members
          of the family
     -- how old
   they are,
        what they look like,
          what their names
        are --
      in a straightforward fashion?

  Instead,
    as in all her work,
        Fitzgerald
          eschews
         the predictable in favor
           of the accidental
          whose significance
        may not be readily apparent
             or,
            truth be told,
              may not have
            any real significance.

  Most important,
    crucial to it really,
      the washday
    passage
       both
          captures
            the movement of life
           and provides an indelible picture
         of 19th-century domestic life
      — how people looked
          and smelled.

  Imagination
    is defined as
      "the creative process
          of the mind,"
         and
       its power
        is both limitless
          and marvelous
              and most probably redemptive
         as well.

  We are surrounded
      by works
             of the imagination:
         our transportation,
            our communication,
             our technology.

  Every song
      we hear,
    every picture
      we look
        at that
    genuinely gladdens
        our heart
         for a moment
    is a work
      of the imagination.

  Literature
    is
     the language
         of the imagination
   refined
         by heightened sensibility,
            and reading,
              to use
          the literary theorist
             Geoffrey Hartman's
               phrase,
             should be
          "an encounter
                 of imagination
         with imagination."

  Lily Tuck
    is
     the author
         of five novels,
    two short story collections
      and a biography;
     her forthcoming novel
    is
      "The Double Life
         of Liliane."

12 thoughts on “How should one read?

  1. I agree the social media, how to information, photos… all have changed the way we read. Most people don’t have the patience to have a good read as they used to, I know I have lost part of that. Glad to have you back to WP!

    • You nailed it down, Amy. I must admit, I read a lot more than I admit. Mind you I enjoy looking at photos as well. That is why when I post photos, I combine it with writing hoping it will be read. Not yet back to WP, this is a reward for me to post something after I’ve accomplished one project. Perpetua.

  2. Interesting post… I concur with Sartre re: reading being predicated on personal concerns and experiences (however much we might like to deny this). I also like the point that literature should be an encounter of imagination with imagination…

Write it up, write it down, it will make us feel better.

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