Thursday, July 14, 2011

Learning How to Read

I may have mentioned once or twice that I'm a bit of a bookworm. And by a bit, I mean raging. I am a raging, flaming bookworm. Yeah, that sounds about right.

I love to read. I've loved to read as long as I can remember. Loved stories, loved characters and their journeys, loved words, loved the ways words can enchant and delight, repulse and dismay. Words.

What's funny, though, is I guess I had a slow start at reading. I began reading well after my peers. I wasn't struggling with how to read. I just didn't want to, apparently. I loved hearing stories, but didn't it seem like so much work to read them myself? Luckily, I went to an awesome Montessori school and I remember Mrs. Shellcroft telling my parents not to worry, that I'd read when I was ready. And once I started? I couldn't stop. I began a lifelong love affair with books.

I was a very busy child, as most of you well know, but if you were to find me in my happiest place, it was curled up with a book somewhere, probably in the back of the car driving somewhere, getting an escape for an indeterminate amount of time. All that mattered was that in those moments, I was gone into the world of my book.

I loved to read, but I didn't really learn how until years later. I learned to read at Montessori school, but I didn't learn how to read until college.

And yes, when you study literature, you are going to learn to write. You'll be expected to write more than you ever think it's possible to extract words from your tired brain. You might even take creative writing and rhetoric courses and learn to take someone else's words and analyze one tiny nugget no one else noticed was there. But the most beautiful part of studying literature is the learning how to read. No one realizes what a valuable thing that is. They see two worlds: literate and illiterate. But when you discover a deeper level of reading, a club of the literati, it opens up too many worlds to count.

In my years of college and through the several different schools I've been in, I truly learned how to read a book. How to be in it and appreciate the nuance of each author, each style, each turn of phrase. How lucky I was to have those years. Those years where reading turned from pastime to art form. How delicious is that idea? Chew on it for a second. Reading as art form. Yum.

I learned to appreciate prose that you can get lost in, words that are delicious, constructed into decadent sentences, which, regardless of their message, I can lose myself. I learned to appreciate novels that don't give anything away, that make you sit through their vaguery (my word) and wait for any nugget of sense to be magnamimously delivered.

I learned to see the technique of an author. To sense the author's presence or lack of presence, for that matter, in between the lines of text.  I learned to identify just what was happening on those pages beyond plot and characterization. I've decided that the true beauty of an author's ability is not the fantastical worlds they construct or the insightful characters they create, but what they do to a reader. They fuck with us, they delight us, they control us with tiny, tiny moments and grandiose claims. They peer at us between words and make us feel.

I'm a writer, but I've never wished to be a novelist, to author a fiction that creates. It's just not for me. I can be a storyteller. I can tell truths, I can tell my stories, even often with embellishment. But I don't create fiction. It's an incredible talent to do so.

I know I've blogged before that writers who don't create fiction deserve attention too. That we have our own talents and challenges. I stand by that. However, today I want to celebrate those who write the novel, the novella, the short story. Without them, so many of us wouldn't be the reading artists we are.

It's funny, it's someone of a symbiotic relationship isn't it? Authors need readers and readers need authors. I think that arrangement works just fine, thanks.

3 comments mean you love me:

MrsJenB said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

There is something inexpressibly delicious about reading a line of text that gives me pause, takes my breath away, or just makes me put the book down to take it all in. I don't think it's possible to be a writer without first being a reader. And like you I've learned over time to decipher style and, frankly, some authors bore me now! If I couldn't read, I don't know what I'd do!

alonewithcats said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I don't read much for pleasure, but man, when I do I am always blindsided by my love of words.

Suniverse said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I love to read so much I can't imagine a world where you would just. not. read. I can't wrap my mind around that. What else do you do instead?

PS My favorite line about reading is Scout's in To Kill a Mockingbird: "Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing."

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