How do I read?

one of my notebooks

one of my notebooks

I jotted this question in my notebook a while ago. How do I read, in the widest sense? There is plenty of observation and advice on the art of writing, composing music, painting, photography, film. Less is said about on the art of reading, perceiving, interpreting, or how we reject or embrace what is expressed by others, and ourselves, even how we read our dreams.

I conclude there’s no difference between, let’s say writing, and reading, other than visibility, since any creative composition derives from an inner process of reading, the picking and shuffling of impressions into our frame of reference in relation to the larger myth of reality.

One could say the secret of being read lies in one’s talent and ability to read one’s inner psychic world, even when filtered through one’s most personal and eccentric imagination.

Long before communication was easily reproducible and reached greater audiences, people were reading the world, though only a tiny fraction of inspirations and inventions was circulated. Today’s media channels swamp us with communications. It’s confusing. We must choose.

In reading novels, I follow my intuition. The gimmick of an instant attention grabbing action scene puts me off. A proposal may be impossibly fantastic, but if I detect an authentic voice, rhythm and movement, I travel along. Invited into a mind, an atmosphere, a time, a place, I want to be absorbed in this other world and experience myself anew in a conflict between light and shadow from within the heart of another consciousness.

Whether meaning is intended or not, I read my own meaning into what has been imagined by another mind. An insight, a memory may surprise. Some books I treasure for one or two illuminating sentences, so I guess reading for me is a bit of a treasure hunt, which begs a question. What am I hunting for?

world objects for sandtray work

world objects for sandtray work

My interest is fleeting when events are contrived, plucked from the air. Characters convince me when they are embodied and grow around obstacles, reaching towards the light, while spreading roots and producing seeds (new thoughts,) even when they come from mythical creatures, kings and slaves of the past, or explorers of distant futures. As long as events happen in a believable psychological setting, I engage.

Then again, I’ve been convinced by writing that made no sense at all, until, with a little patience, I discovered a new comprehension shining through an abstract form. It’s a wonderful feeling, and important feedback for writers, who may be surprised by what is evoked in readers. Once I finished my present project, I intent to spend more time on reviewing – a most giving art of reading.

Stories for stories sake can be dull, while stories in which nothing much happens outwardly can be riveting when they resonate with the human condition, where, quite often, what seems true becomes false, and what seems false becomes true.

It is said we write the books we want to read. When writing, I search to combine words that convince intellectually and emotionally, until something true is mirrored back. Maybe what I’m hunting for in my reading and writing are fitting metaphors for the miracle of existence.

I always delight in discovering neglected writers, like Marlene Haushofer,  or the poet W S Graham, whom I wrote about here as part of a post in Sept 2013.  And beyond new works, there are innumerable old favourites, including H G Wells. The link connects to a post I did about one of his lesser known stories.

Thinking about photography, my other passionate reading, I was inspired by Henri Cartier Bresson – the link leads to my post about him.  And here the archive of the street photography of Andre Kertesz – enjoy.  I’ll leave film alone, that’s a whole other story.

What are your reflections on reading?


Some related blogposts:

Storytelling and the primary world.

Mother-tongue and other tongue.

Memory and Place.


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11 responses to “How do I read?

  1. I attended a talk just this Monday on this theme of reading and writing in the age of the internet (the talk will be a featured article in Harpers in a couple of months – I’ll send it to you when I get it). A very short interview with the speaker here: with a couple of choice quotes. But yes, the questions of what to read, and how, occupy most of my days. I like the two photos you included here, the top one a kind of modern Alice Through the Looking Glass, the bottom one a modern Shakespearean cast taking a bow after a performance.


    • Thanks. I look forward to the article. Caleb Crain mentions journal writing, which made me think of the TED show I watched today – a young man has been filming for several years now every day a one second glimpse of his life. He says the short clips bring back each day as a whole. He made a calculation that the film would be 5 hours long in his old age. Interesting, but somewhat dizzying.

      By my bed is a notebook where, on waking, I may record a single word from a dream I can’t fully recall, this could be a name, an object, a mood, a colour … When I go back to sleep that night and look at the keyword, the whole dream often returns. We think we don’t remember, but it’s all there, floating about.


      • Yes, floating flotsam and jetsam, sinking lagan and derelict, beached dreams tangled in seaweed. Lately I’ve been keeping the comics journal bedside for awakenings, doodles in the night, no words, unless the word is an image, a signifier of some sort, but of what I often don’t know or recognize. A single second filmed? I’ve been watching Agnes Varda films, La Pointe Courte, Cleo from 5 to 7, started but have not yet finished Le Bonheur. Anyway, the movement of La Pointe Courte is so slow, Cleo a little faster, but still not dizzying at all, very patient, and the journal might come to mind.


        • Maybe the slow pace of a narrative goes deeper, like Mary says below. Varda films, yes. For me the dreamy Chris Marker film, La Jettee (62) made with still photographs, is still strong in my memory. The long instalments of Edgar Reitz’s Heimat linger on. And Kent Haruf’s novels, which I came to love last year.
          But ideal are alternate movements, wired into us by nature, of action and repose, like breathing in and out, and with something I call treasure glimpsed in the gap.


  2. I completely agree that for me, the detecting of an authentic voice is probably what I most look for when reading. I’m willing to follow such a voice along many different types of journeys. The fast-paced plot can be a good diversion, for a time, but once that last page is closed, it will never enter my mind again unless there was something more, something deeper. An interesting character or an apt metaphor, a thrilling choice of words. And always the search for something that resonates or expands within me.


    • … the search for something that resonates or expands within me …

      That’s the beauty. And we don’t have words for this something or nothing. Nearest comes Einsteins’s ghostly action, or the wind that remains unseen, while we delight in or dread what it moves and stirs.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you Ashen for this post. What a joy it is to me to read finely constructed authentic writing and a chord is struck within. I love to travel an author’s journey and let my own ego take a break. And to have an aha! moment of recognition when the writer articulates something that I may have been trying to express no matter the unfamiliar landscape. Your writing does that – to and for me, thank you.


  4. Hello there … Just dropping by to tell you that I nominated you for a Infinity Dreams Award… You can check it out at the end of this post
    All my best wishes. Aquileana 😀


  5. Thank you kindly Aquileana. Boundless dreams for us all.


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