Two blog posts on reading that piqued my interest lately:
- Ari Marmell talks about being “Blind in the Mind’s Eye.” That is, when reading or writing descriptions, he does not visualize them, and if he takes the conscious effort to do so, “it doesn’t seem to add much value.” I would have loved to know what he does perceive foremost when reading…
- …an answer to which might be provided by Matthew Cheney’s discussion of “Ways of Reading,” in which he describes his own, primarily aural experience of the written word. Cheney also comments on the general usefulness of reading analytical (versus evaluative) criticism as a way of gaining access to other people’s perceptions of the same works – which is indeed a major part of why I love reading detailed, descriptive essays.
Since I’m always fascinated by differences in how people process and organize information – how do YOU read? Do you hear sounds first, or create images in your head, or some combination of the two, and/or something else entirely? Have you noticed that it affects what types of writing you prefer to read, or what you remember from what you’ve read and how you remember it? Somewhat on a tangent/more generally, do you feel that books demand you to read them in any particular way? (I have one friend who can’t read a book unless she’s concurrently taking exhaustive notes and marking bits off with Post-Its. You should see her copies of Thomas Pynchon and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.)
I’d describe myself as being primarily visual – although since I perversely have rather bad spatial and cognitive mapping skills, I suck at visualizing expansive and/or complex architecture and geography, except in a very impressionistic way. (Hence why sci-fi description frequently demands multiple re-reads from me – alien architecture and three-dimensional battle scenes are Right Out.) I notice aural qualities mostly on a subconscious level; if I’m interested in paying explicit attention to them, I either have to make a conscious effort of it, or read things aloud. (I suspect that’s not uncommon.) Secondary to my visual perceptions, I tend to form an overall sensual/synaesthetic impression, which is not infrequently influenced by the cover art. (Yep, I really, really do judge book covers, on more levels than one.) A random sampling:
- Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness is flat, grey-white/blue-grey, and concretey. Her Earthsea Cycle is twilight-purple and gold, fading warmth, sun just gone under a horizon of black waves.
- Robin McKinley’s Sunshine is dark, warm, glossy, and… squishy. Like a molten chocolate cake (appropriately).
- A. S. Byatt’s short stories are greyish-gold light filtering through shallow water.
- Orson Scott Card’s Ender books are austere, even greyness, shading towards graphite, and a few degrees below room temperature.
That impression is a huge factor in my decision to re-read things – if I really, really like the feel of it, I want to have it recreated. It’s analogous, for me, to being attached to particular aspects of a season or time of day – wanting to see late-afternoon autumn sunlight coming in through a particular window, or to feel a particular temperature of breeze, say. I feel like there has to be a word for that in German…