Thursday, May 29, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: What Is Reading, Fundamentally?

What is reading, anyway? Novels, comics, graphic novels, manga, e-books,
audio books —which of these is reading these days? Are they all reading? Only
some of them? What are your personal qualifications for something to be
“reading” — why? If something isn’t reading, why not? Does it matter? Does it
impact your desire to sample a source if you find out a premise you liked the
sound of is in a format you don’t consider to be reading? Share your personal
definition of reading, and how you came to have that stance.

--Suggested by: Thisisnotabookclub

Several years ago, a sales person from the Los Angeles Times called just about every day to try and talk me into buying a subscription to the paper. It was always the same man, and usually I would not bother answering the phone when he called, but I decided it was time to put a stop to it. When I told him I was not interested, he politely asked why, and I blurted out, "I don't read." After a stunned silence, he cleared his throat and said, "I'm so sorry." He said it in such a sad way, and I instantly realized his mistake. I had not meant to imply that I didn't know how to read; I simply wanted him to know that subscribing would be silly because I wouldn't read it.

There was a time in my life when I could not read. It's true for all of us. Reading is something we all had to learn. For some it came more naturally than for others. Reading can be as simple as making sense of the symbols and combination of symbols we call letters and words. Language, written and oral, is an amazing invention. I have never been very good at languages no matter how hard I try, but I am fascinated by the variety of different ones out there and admire those who can read and speak more than one.

I place a high value on literacy. I know people who cannot read and, while they are able to get by, not being able to read comes with serious limitations, especially in today's society. I cannot fathom not being able to read. It is such an integral part of my life. It is a skill that is easy to take for granted.

When I say I love to read, that it is one of my passions, I am not just referring to reading on a basic level but more in terms of enjoying a good story. There are some people who read books and only see words on a page. When I read a book, I am transported into another time and place. I am a visual reader in that I can see a story unfold before me as I read. I remember once watching a movie and being so sure I had seen it before, and yet I hadn't. However, I had read the book. The images and descriptions from the book were so real to me that when I saw them on the TV screen, I was sure I had seen them before. Furthermore, I become connected to the characters in a book, even becoming a part of their lives in a sense. I laugh and cry with them, share their pain and celebrate their successes.

It does not matter whether a story is nonfiction or fiction or whether it is told mostly through artwork or solely in words. Length is insignificant. A short story can pack as much punch as a door stopper of a novel. While there may be book types or formats that I prefer not to read, it does not make them any less worthy as reading materials.


  1. I can not imagine not reading. I forget sometimes that there are people who don't read because I take it so much for granted. While I have my preferences, I'll read almost anything. Heck, I'll even read the cereal box while I eat! I definitely have a preference for ink and paper, but obviously I spend quite a bit of time reading from various screens. I might even be able to see myself using something like the Kindle someday ... maybe.

  2. One of the first times I went to my in-law's house I was reading on the couch and my mother-in-law plopped next to me, turned on the tv, gave me one look and said, "I don't read." It nearly broke my heart. How sad a world without reading, but sadder still a world where people actively chose not to read.

  3. Did you clarify that you can read, just don't choose to read the LA Times or let it hang and get yourself off the hook?

    My favorite books are the ones where I'm no longer reading, I'm there. It doesn't happen as frequently.

  4. The newspaper subscription people make me crazy too. They haven't found me at my new address yet though.

    In my answer, I felt that audiobooks count since they also transport me. They are words on page as well- just being read aloud.

  5. As always, a wonderfully thoughtful reply :)

    I think I tend to take reading for granted, too. I can't imagine not being able to. Especially now that computers and the internet are becoming such a fundamental part of western societies.

  6. Like Nymeth, I too cannot imagine myself not being able to read. And I think it's always good to start from young and make it a good habit.

    Reading comes in various forms, and as long as stories are being told, I think they have already served their purposes. ;)

  7. Terri - LOL I've read the cereal box while eating too. :-)

    I can see myself using a Kindle or similar type reading device someday too. Not in the near future, mind you. But maybe someday.

    Nikki - I think what bothers me more than someone who choses not to read is someone who doesn't respect the fact that I do enjoy reading. I get that people have different interests and hobbies. Not everyone is drawn to reading. I don't quite understand why not and like you, I feel a bit sad that they are missing out, but then I'm sure some of them wonder why I don't like to do something they love to do.

    Carrie K - I did not clarify that I could read. I made a split decision that it was best he continue thinking I couldn't. Bad of me, I know. :-S The calls did stop after that.

    Oh yes! The books that completely mesmerize me are the absolute best. :-)

    Chris - I hope the newspaper subscription people don't find you! I really don't mind one call, but do they have to keep at it even after we say no? I sometimes wonder now if they've got it on file at the L.A. Times subscription services office that I don't read so they shouldn't bother. LOL

    I haven't tried audio books and can't say I'm eager to. I know quite a few people who do listen to them and really like them, but they just don't appeal to me. Maybe someday if my life circumstances change and make it more practical. I'd never rule it out.

    Nymeth - Thank you! I really can't imagine not reading either. It's like breathing to me, you know? It is such a natural part of my life and who I am.

    Melody - My brother was a late bloomer who didn't like reading much until he was in his mid-twenties. I think he felt a bit left out growing up, being the only non-reader in the family.

  8. I compulsively read anything I can understand too. Happy BTT.

  9. I totally agree. Stories can be told in many ways and they are all valid. And yes, literacy is something that can be taken for granted.

  10. In your post I latched on to where you talked about being a visual reader. I've discovered I'm not. I don't really visualize the characters or the places but. . . it seems to work for me. It's like having the background info, a general description of the character etc,is enough. I wonder what type of reading style that is.

  11. Pussreboots - There seems to be a lot of us, doesn't there? Happy BTT to you too!

    Jaimie - I believe that anyway. I love stories. :-)

    Book Junkie - I imagine it's much like learning styles in that not everyone learns or takes in stimuli the same way. As long as you are getting satisfaction out of your reading and it's meeting your needs, then it really shouldn't matter.

    I'm not sure there is such a thing as a visual reader. I think I heard it somewhere and decided it fit somehow with my reading style, my seeing the the story play out in my mind.

    Thank you for stopping by!

  12. Interesting reflections on what happens when we read. I came to similar conclusions from reflecting on definitions of reading

  13. I really like your answer for this week's BTT. And I had to laugh at your impromptu response to the newspaper guy. I've been known to start using sign language when I'm tired at being stopped by someone on the street trying to get me to buy something, convert to some religion, etc. :)

  14. I once had students coming to class and saying they didn't read, or they didn't like to read. My heart sank upon hearing that.

    I do agree that reading involves a level of appreciation of the language itself, aside from making sense of the meaning.

  15. John - I tend to think it comes down to the individual in the end. Defining reading is not an easy task, especially because there is a wide range of viewpoints on the topic. I have a tendency to think of reading in broad terms myself.

    Alisia - Thank you! I haven't heard of using sign language to deflect unwanted attention from a street seller. That's not a bad idea!

  16. Matt - People who do not choose to read are missing out, aren't they? It's really too bad.

  17. Hi Wendy, when you said this: "There are some people who read books and only see words on a page. When I read a book, I am transported into another time and place. I am a visual reader in that I can see a story unfold before me as I read." I was nodding in agreement and you've said exactly what's on my mind and how I feel when I hold a book in my hand.

    When I tried explaining this to my friends, they stared at me as if I was some strange creature. Oh well...

  18. Beautifully stated, Wendy! I completely agree with you and have always loved reading. It has and always will be a part of who I am and I would be so lost without it. It is so foreign to me how many people simply do not enjoy reading and a book is the farthest thing from their mind. Especially when I hear of people who can't even remember the last book that they read was. My hubby is not a reader at all and other than my kids, my MIL is the only other person who is much of a reader. I know everyone has their own interests, it just seems so sad to miss out on all of the wonderful adventures that the written words holds in store.

  19. When I was still teaching I regularly ran across kids who couldn't read. It sometimes seemed like there was at least one in every class. Some people just cannot decode those symbols. My best friend's son, who's 18, is functionally illiterate. He can text and chat on the internet but when faced with "real" language is completely lost. He, and others like him, get their stories visually - movies and TV.

  20. Alice - I get odd looks to sometimes, especially when my eyes glaze over when I talk about an especially good book and how I was sucked right into the pages.

    April - Thank you. I can't help but think non-readers are missing out on something special too. They don't see it that way, of course. :-)

    Julie - Reading can be difficult for some people. I know a number of people who struggled with reading because of disabilities, in particular dyslexia. Some have come to love to read after fighting so hard to work around their disorder while others had such a hard time of it that they don't like to read at all unless they have to.

  21. I think I agree with all of your sentiments about reading. I once went out with someone who was illiterate. My husband and his best friend are dyslexic. Alex can read find and reads faster than I do. His friend however doesn't bother reading, finds it hard and gains no enjoyment from it.

  22. Rhinoa - I liked what you had to say on this topic, especially about graphic novels and the like. Some people do not take them seriously as a form of literature and I think that's a real shame. They have a lot to offer and are definitely not just for kids.


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