Reading is an intimate experience. It’s a private conversation between two people, the author and the reader. The type of conversation that can only occur between two people: deep and cuttingly honest. You can watch a movie, a play or a sporting match with others and experience that entertainment together because the form exists outside of you.
Books technically exist outside of us too and while two people can read the same book, their experiences of that book will be very different. Reading is an internal and idiosyncratic process. We’ve all read ‘Pride and Prejudice’, we all know what happens, yet my Elizabeth Bennet will be slightly different to yours because I am reading the novel through my perspective; I am filtering Elizabeth’s life through my life, my values and my embedded biases.
I often read moving passages to my partner, but the power contained within those words is often lost when read out loud. And yes, I can appreciate that it is also being read out of context, but there is something else going on too.
When a story is read out loud, you lose the tactile experience of being the primary decoder: the person who transforms the words on the page into people, places and events. The person who is reading out loud may emphasise particular words that you wouldn’t, they may read slower or faster, loudly or softly, so that their voice influences the way you experience the story.
Reading is an intimate experience because you are co-creating a world with the author. Yes, admittedly, the author has done most of the heavy lifting, but readers are the ones that stories are written for and it’s through their participation that the story is able to fulfil its purpose.
Reading allows us to feel something, to travel somewhere, to do things and to move towards something; all while being in someone else’s body. Here, you can witness the internal and honest workings of someone’s interior. In real life, we can never know another person’s interior dialogue. They may share thoughts and feelings with us — but we’ll only ever know what they are willing to share.
Granted, the interior life of a character may not be accurate or truthful, but it is true to that character. If a story is told in third person limited or omniscient, then we have an even broader perspective. It may not be truth with a capital T, but it is a truth.
Reading is an intimate experience because your consciousness is colliding with the novel, and by extension, the author. As you progress through a novel, the boundaries between you and it begin to shrink. We talk about losing ourselves in a novel in the same way that we talk about losing ourselves in a romantic relationship. When you ‘click’ with a book you are willing to suspend your disbelief and to experience the adventure pressed between the covers. A line may fall flat when read out loud because the listener has not been involved in this decoding process and their consciousness has not blended with the novel. To introduce a different metaphor: you can’t know whether a new house will one day become a home until someone hands you the keys and lets you in.
Happy reading guys.