A few weeks ago, I read that “reading a book is basically just looking at a dead tree and hallucinating”. I’ve got to admit, that kind of freaked me out. I mean, it’s not wrong. But it’s so strange to me how staring at some words etched on paper can hold so much power, offer so much escapism, and create so many new worlds.
As an English Literature university student this idea is often held in discussion, and can, quite honestly, create a minor existential crisis. But last week during a discussion in one of my seminars, we explored this deeper, and the idea of reading well. How can we decide if a particular reading is valid? A point mentioned was that, within the study of English Literature, a good and well read reading is particularly valid if you can back up your thoughts with textual evidence. Is it in the text, and is it accurately in the text? If you’re taking a quotation from a piece of text and completely twisting it to fit with some obscure idea that transparently wasn’t the intention of the author for you to come to that conclusion, it’s not a very valid reading. Thinking outside the box and developing fresh, original interpretations is what makes a reading successful, just as long as it’s not too unrealistic.
In addition, we discussed the idea of a power dynamic between the reader and the writer. There were plenty of debates about which side holds the most authority and power within this relationship, and I think there is no real answer to this question. An idea from those who believed the writer held the most power was the fact that the writer actually created this material object for others to read, therefore they knew exactly what their intentions were, whereas the reader can only interpret the writers work and draw their own conclusion without being certain that this is what the writer wanted from them. That being said, this point can also work in favour of those believing that the reader holds the power, as the writer has no control over the readers thoughts, opinions and understanding of their work. The reader is well within their right to interpret it however they want. Additionally, the reader is needed for the writer to succeed, so with this in mind, instead of battling for the most power in the relationship, perhaps it is really teamwork that makes this dynamic work.
Despite everything said, I think we can all agree that as long as a novel is well written and well received, it can definitely be classified as a success. Enjoyment within reading is key, and if a book has achieved this then, in my opinion, it is worth reading.
~These are just a couple of ideas from my University seminar that I thought would be interesting to share~