All targets are set for the new year, there are goals to be met, and most importantly, there are books upon books to be read! But do we ever stop to consider how we go about reading? I usually don’t, so I thought maybe now is a good time to slow down and consider my reading habits and my approach to reading.
First thing I do, of course, is grab my book of choice (or my Kindle), and stare at the words on the pages. I really don’t think I need to get into the mechanics of reading and neither do I want to. When I read though, I usually just read. I hardly take notes, although I do have a small dedicated notebook that I usually carry with me wherever I go. That way, I do have a place to pen down information from the books, thoughts that cross my mind, or silly little questions that I want answered but need to get out of my system, so I don’t dwell on them and get distracted. Since my phone is usually on my as well, I type out quotes that I what to reference later in one of the many note apps that I have installed.
When it comes to reading, I tend to let my eyes do the job. I hardly ever annotate the margins. I mean, I can’t do that in library books anyway but even for my own books, I cannot bear to write in them. I like my books to remain in tip-top condition. The newer they look, the happier I am. The only times that I did write in the margins was when studying for school and when writing term papers. Academic books are the only books I own that don’t mar my conscience when I write in them.
I can’t leave the house without a book in my bag. I feel incomplete if I don’t have one. Same as water bottle. Book and water bottle, these are two things I need. I’ve walked out of the house before, and not turned back when I realized I didn’t have my wallet with me. I’ve also walked out of the house, only to turn back when I didn’t have a book to read or a water bottle. Actually, that extends to my phone and earphones as well, so fine, four essential items I won’t leave the house without.
See, I usually take the subway wherever I go. That usually means I have at least half an hour to an hour of precious reading time one way. That time can be two hours to and fro. Then there are all these pockets of time spent waiting for something. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself without a book. I also can’t stand knowing I have to wait out a book longer if I don’t spend my travelling time reading. It’s wasted time without a book, if you ask me.
Habits, I think, are fairly apparent. What comes to our attention less, is probably how we read. Do we consider what the author meant to convey? Does the context in which a book was written matter to us? Do we believe in universality of texts? Or are we convinced that all that matters is what we make of a book? There’re a whole lot of literary theories out there debating precisely this: what is the meaning of texts? Arguments ensue about whether the author directs the meaning, if the meaning is embedded in the text itself, or if the readers all receive different meanings. While I’ll leave all this theorising and more cohesive thoughts to some other time, I do think that it might be good to at least consider all that.
In short, I think there’s a combination of it all that need to be taken into account. Authors do have intentions when writing their books and that cannot be discounted. Also, there is meaning embedded in the texts alone, regardless of what anyone knows about the provenance. Most interestingly though right now is that there can be varying interpretations as well, depending on the readers. For the purposes of book reviews, I think that is something that must be kept in mind at all times. Why else would one person rate a book so highly while another might be hard pressed to even give it star at all?
This is why in my approach to reading, I first and foremost think about what kind of books I like to read. No point picking up a Horror book because everyone else loves that particular book when I couldn’t care less for the genre. I would probably hate the book either way. That hatred would have nothing to do with the so-called literary merit of the book. As a reader, I’m just not hard-wired to gain any appreciation from that genre, and so I stay far away. Thus my approach to reading is to stick to the genres I like while exploring other genres here and there to see if I find anything new I like outside of my comfort zone.
What reading habits have you developed or wish to develop this year even? How do you approach reading? Do you care where meaning comes from or how you derive it? Or does simply the act of reading and encountering new stories satisfy without caring about the theories behind all that?