There is an assumption that those we meet in everyday life can read.
But, pausing to challenge that assumption, we remember the newspaper reports we’ve read about adult illiteracy levels and we begin to appreciate that we are amongst the lucky ones. The ones who weren’t failed by parents, teachers, carers and education systems.
The fact that I am writing this and you are reading it demonstrates clearly that we have an ability, perhaps one that we take for granted.
Some people love to read and are always found with a book about their person. These people enjoy the whole process – from choosing a book to turning the pages whilst digesting the contents. Reading for them is a form of relaxation. They swirl the words around in their mind savouring the syntax and meaning.
For others, reading is a chore, something to be gotten through, a means to an end. They find it difficult to concentrate on the written word, skim pages and end up clueless about the content. Their own story running through their head whilst they read, making it impossible for the writer’s words to make any impact.
The point I want to make is that there is more to reading than recognising groups of letters.
Reading allows us to tap into the wisdom and learning of others. It doesn’t matter whether they are dead or alive – their words remain in perpetuity.
Reading makes it possible for us to learn, share experiences, expand our horizons – all without leaving home.
Reading is actually an opportunity to have a conversation with the writer – someone with whom we wouldn’t perhaps have an opportunity to to talk.
As a writer it saddens me that that the magic and delight in reading is lost to some, and I want to offer a way for reading to become more than a chore.
Rather than treating the experience of reading as a lecture, where you the reader sit amongst others in orderly rows whilst the author talks at you, try having an intimate tête a tête with the writer.
When you settle down to read, get into the mindset that this is an intimate meeting of just the two of you. Prepare yourself to read. Use the power of your imagination. Whether you ‘meet’ with the writer on your couch or over a coffee, know you are having a conversation between the two of you.
Look at the book and think about why it’s in the format it’s in. Why certain colours have been used. This is the equivalent of seeing the writer walk towards you. This is where you make your snap judgements!
Read the piece about the author and the blurb on the back cover. This is the formal introduction and hand shaking.
In a non-fiction book, take a look at the bibliography. This is your chance to see who you both ‘know’.
When the writer wrote he brought to the writing his story. He cannot help but be influenced by his upbringing, his values and his relationships – these have all twisted themselves together to become his life tapestry.
What we have to remember before we start reading is that our story will be different. Yes, there may be similarities between reader and writer, shared concerns that have brought the two together, but there will be differences too.
There are so many variables that make us the individuals we are – no two can be the same.
Our personal stories create the space in which we live our lives and experience the world. Reading is an opportunity for us to weave a different coloured thread into the tapestry of our own life. It’s a chance to open ourselves up to the ideas and stories of others – the writers whose words we choose to read.
We bring our own concerns and worries to our reading, whether we mean to or not.
Our choice of reading matter may be to provide entertainment, to allow escape from our own world for a while. Or, we may choose to read something that we hope holds a solution.
The sheer numbers of published self help books demonstrates how many of us take our worries to a writer BUT do we then have a conversation with that writer or do we simply expect them to solve our problems for us?
Back to our ‘meeting’ with the author.
By treating this as an opportunity to ask questions we have the chance to enter into a different relationship with the words on the page.
Think about why you have chosen to read the book. What is going in your life story? There is a reason for you choosing to read that book, right now, in much the same way there is a reason why you choose to get in touch with a friend or colleague at any given time. You have a purpose, even if you’re not fully conscious of it.
Flush out into the open what expectations you have of the author and their book; what opinions you already hold about them. Our stories can and do filter our experience of life allowing us to notice only that which validates us and fits our personal reality. By becoming aware of our stories before we read, we have a better chance of not only seeing the words through our usual eyes but also lifting those mental sunglasses for a while to open up the possibility of a different view.
As you read, don’t be a passive swallower of the words on the page. Don’t bolt through the pages scanning for those words and sentences that match your world view – that’s like going to dine at a Michelin star restaurant and ordering your usual burger and chips.
Give the reading the attention it deserves, just as you would if you were really meeting the author in person.
Bring comfort to your body whilst you read so you are not distracted by physical concerns. Open your mind as you read and see what new ideas and views set seed.
Read, pause and reflect. Chew on the words as you would a tasty morsel. Don’t be in a rush to move on to the next course. Make notes, capture what is meaningful and allow that to generate more questions.
By making our reading into a conversation, we can extract so much more than the bald meaning provided by words and sentences. We have an opportunity to engage with the writer, to challenge, to disagree, to be persuaded, to laugh and cry together. We can take the writer’s hand and be transported by their story – but this takes a willingness to participate in the process.
If you have read this far, well done. Do feel free to continue our conversation in the comments below.
For those who are wondering what the hell I am going on about, the synopsis is this. I am simply expressing a personal concern that so much potential from reading is overlooked, opportunities are being missed and the joy of experiencing the written word is being lost.