This week's topic for the Literary Blog Hop, hosted by The Blue Bookcase, is this:
What outside influences affect your reading experience? Do you think these influences enhance or detract from the experience?
I have to admit that at first I wasn't entirely sure what this meant. Are we talking physical surroundings? Environmental noise? People who are clearly not readers interrupting you to ask you what you are reading (because if they were readers they would never interrupt you!)?
But reading Meghan's answer, I see now that the question pertains to something more subtle and less concrete than that. Meghan's story about seeing a Hallmark adaptation of a book that colored her future reading of the book illustrates that our life experiences with one book in particular or a subject in general can change the way that we perceive a text. In reading theory, we call that the transactional theory of reading. The idea that each of us brings different experiences, behaviors, and feelings to a piece of writing, and therefore we each go away from the text with something different. There may be many places where people's perceptions or feelings about the books overlap-after all, any freshman English teacher can tell you the major themes of Lord of the Flies or To Kill a Mockingbird-but no two people will read and understand a book in exactly the same way. This is especially true for literary works, where authors' use of symbolism, metaphor, and allegory can lead readers down many paths of understanding based on their own knowledge and experiences. Non-Christians not living in the US may read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and have no clue that a lot of it is Christian symbolism. Reading can never be context independent.
So, understanding reading as a transactional process, then my answer to the question of which outside influences affect the reading experience is ALL OF THEM. Like Meghan could not divorce her mind from the different ending of the movie version of the book she was reading, none of us can put our own knowledge, experiences, and feelings aside when reading. What to me was a very sexist book about the relationships of husbands and wives (I'm looking at you, On Strike for Christmas) was to my friend a charming story about wifely assertiveness. A story about an Africa refugee from Nigeria might read very differently to someone of African descent than someone of Asian or European descent. Our common understanding of theme and mood come from discussion, from sharing each person's own take on the book, from analyzing it from academic as well as personal perspectives. As a reader, I can often see why an author chose a certain style, and appreciate it for it's artistic merit, but in the end how I respond to a book has more to do with me than with the author.