23 June 2009

Your blue may be my green

I am not entirely sure that how I read is, well, normal. I read with great fervor and eagerness, but I also do not read like most people I know, with the possible exception of my brother.

It goes like this: when I read, I read in chunks, large segments, sometimes 3 or more lines at a time, sometimes paragraphs. I almost always ignore articles and other regular grammatical words, perhaps because the simple volume of what I have read before gives me a good sense of what to expect. When I run into understanding issues, I will backtrack, but by and large I can continue on in this manner indefinitely to the end of a book or article. My comprehension is high but not absolute; I would estimate that an initial reading tends to produce something like 80%, but that is for the larger aspects...I have considerable trouble with remembering small details, such as character descriptions, colors, general descriptions, and ultra-specific quotation.

To offset these disadvantages, I am a voracious re-reader. It is unimaginable for me to read a book just once, unless it fails to capture me, and even then, there is no absolute cutoff. My favorite books I have read almost uncounted times, and nearly every book that I own has been read more than once, front to back.

This all means a couple of things for how I approach books. For one, I end up filling in a lot of what I miss, particularly in the area of description and characters. There's books that have managed to force their visions on me, of course, and I do not tend to invent things wholesale, but commonly I end up with impressions that stick and are entirely specific to me. As a whole, then, I tend to comprehend books in a very cinematic manner, its focusing dependent on how the writer writes. Another, and more important, result is my tendency to quickly fall in love with a universe rather than a specific story. Sometimes when I read and re-read books, I end up 'getting' the mechanics of that universe, seeing the characters and locations and situations as parts of a greater whole. I read the book then not so much for the tale it tells but for the chance to return there.

A logical extension of these habits and tendencies is that I sometimes willfully ignore that which the author has put in front of me (in fiction!). The text is everything, indeed, but I feel that it is often the character of a work that is its strongest point rather than what is embodied in specific words. One cannot control the precise meanings of a word, and neither can one control the imagination of one's readers. I do read for enjoyment, after all.

There is no possible way that my modes of comprehension are unique to me, but I still end up feeling lost and alone sometimes because of it. No, I wasn't paying attention to the color of the suit that so-and-so was wearing; no, I don't care about that particular subplot; what do you mean you didn't get why he had to do that, and so on. It leaves me with a zero-man audience all too often, unless I am talking to my brother, who I also suspect reads in a manner very similar, although likely not identical.


Adam Wykes said...

What will really be interesting is to see whether or not the progeny of either you or your brother, should either of you have any, will inherit this mode from you...

I am almost certainly on the other (I sometimes think less fortunate) end of the spectrum: I read very carefully, sometimes backtracking over a single sentence multiple times until I am sure I understood everything about that sentence. It is not uncommon to find me sitting with a book in my hands, staring out into space rather than reading. Something has piqued my philosophical interests, or a particularly Gordian moral dilemma has made itself known to me.

As a result, I have read only a fraction of what you read within a large percentage of the same time-frame.

It would seem that evolutionary variation exists even within our adopted reading styles. What I want to know is - will one meme eventually dominate the gene pool, or will both cohabit, surviving in different niches?

P.S. To be a devil's advocate: You say you understand 80% of what you read, but I'm not sure how you get that number when you apparently believe that an infinite number of valid and useful interpretations exist. Given that, no one would ever understand but a small fraction, approaching zero, of the whole.

Geoffrey Wykes said...

80% of the text - that is, seeing "he looked at her and sighed" and making the connection of who 'he' is and who 'her' is.

Books are a little different, though - the number of interpretations is limited on a textual level, because of the constrained nature of individual words. I would suggest that they are not so limited on a conceptual level, however, because valid sentences rapidly approach infinity.