Thursday, June 09, 2011

Literary Blog Hop-Reading in a Bubble

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.

8 comments:

  1. Fantastic, well-thought out response. And I hadn't heard of the term "transactional process". Also thank you for thinking about this initially as environmental things influencing your reading. I immediately thought of outside noise when reading and clearly not what Meagan was going for.

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  2. Great response. It's utterly impossible to divorce oneself from the external prejudices and ideas we bring to books and that's a wonderful things. It would be incredibly boring otherwise.

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  3. Great response-lately when I read a classic book I try to project myself into the mindset of the intended reader-as you mentioned Christian symbolism, I recently read a story by Guy de Maupassant that has little meaning at all to those not familiar with Christianity

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  4. Its that interaction between the writer & the reader through the medium of the book that is amazing.

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  5. I really enjoyed reading your response. I think that context is important, as is that sticky wicket "taste," which is developed through context.

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  6. Well put and I adore your blog layout! New follower.

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