In an opinion piece in the New York Times last week author Lily Tuck asks, “How should one read?” Her conclusion is that one should read with imagination. But, it seems to me, her piece and the question itself, is really trying to get at what the responsibility of the reader is. Because as we all know, an author writes a book but it doesn’t come alive until it is read. And that requires readers. Us.
We may not write the story but by bringing it to life we are engaging in a mutually creative act. Do we have an obligation? A duty? A responsibility as a reader? When we ask how should one read, and given the number of books out there on the subject it seems a question we are interested in exploring, we are really wanting to know what is required of us in order to fully engage in the creative act of reading. And of course there are lots of answers and lots of qualifications of those answers and plenty of people are willing to say there is a right way and a wrong way and our heads begin to spin and we begin to feel inadequate because we don’t look up every unfamiliar word in the dictionary and we fail to properly notate and annotate and who has time to read every book more than once even though supposedly you can never truly understand a good piece of literature until you have read it twice at least but three times is better and OMG why isn’t reading fun anymore?
Instead of piling it on, let’s get back to basics. Let’s talk about minimum requirements, basic responsibilities. Like imagination. Because I do agree with Tuck that we do need imagination. It also helps to have an open mind. Inevitably we will read something we don’t agree with or a point of view that is completely foreign or a way of being in the world that we had never considered. These things challenge our personal worldview and when we come upon them to be closed-minded shuts down everything. I don’t think you can truly have a good imagination unless you are also open-minded. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with what you read, only that you can entertain the possibility of difference.
What else? I think trust is important. I know some people go at books believing the author has to earn their trust. I prefer to trust from the start and am willing to risk feeling betrayed if the author screws it up. Which they do sometimes.
How about curiosity? Along with that I’d like to propose that it is beneficial to be comfortable with uncertainty not only in terms of not knowing what is going to happen next in the plot of a book, but being okay with being lost and confused and disoriented when it comes to understanding. I know people’s tolerance for this is highly variable, but I think the more we can bear, the more exciting and interesting a reading experience can be. Here is another place that trust comes in. Such a state requires a reader really trust the author, and herself for that matter, to find a way through the confusion to a place of understanding. So it also helps to have a sense of adventure but I don’t think that goes on the list of responsibilities.
Is there anything else? I don’t think the list of responsibilities should be that long. There is a difference between basic reader responsibilities and skills to enhance the reading experience. It’s the skills all those books focus on and neglect inquiry into entry level requirements. And I hope you all understand that when I say requirements I don’t actually mean that if you aren’t curious you have no right to call yourself a reader. The only real requirement to be a reader is being literate. It’s more like a basic approach or attitude toward reading to make the best of the experience. Does that make sense?
Please, share your own thoughts on the matter because I know you have them!