Saturday, May 4, 2013

Appearance and Reality in Reading

Continuing on the topic of reading based on my earlier post, ‘Reading as a Search for Stimuli’; there are quite a number of aspects that I need to press upon. I stated that voracious readers do not appear to have a problem with reading books. What could be the rationale behind this? Consider the following circumstances:

1.      A child prefers to read as a means of coping with changes in situations in life. If reading helps mitigate stress caused by unpredictable situations then he pursues it seriously throughout his life.
2.      An adult as a child, gets access to content that makes him extremely curious about various subjects such as, Geography, History, Biology etc. He develops lasting interest in the way the ecosystem operates and through his fondness for learning reads voraciously and as an adult develops into a subject matter expert. The need to update keeps him reading with undying enthusiasm.
3.      A child thinks excessively and likes to listen to quotations and perspectives of various authors but cannot sustain attention while reading. He gets bored by the books prescribed to him by his parents and teachers. He is ahead of his age when it comes to interests. Later as an adult or in the process of growing up his interests get influenced by the new walks of life that he experiences and develops a wider interest and reads voraciously as a result of wanting to experience ‘vicarious thrill’.
4.      A child engages with some text randomly and develops a fascination for the written word and immerses himself in the world of books.
5.      Another child is quite bored with the external world that he finds himself growing in and finds books and stories a more engaging alternative.

Let us take these five circumstances and examine them. There may be a whole lot more but I believe at this stage that if we understand these five circumstances that I have enumerated we may be able to see significant light on why some readers do not have a problem at all in reading continuously and voraciously.  ‘Continuity’ in reading is closely linked to attention span. I may be interested in aerospace and I pick up a magazine on various studies on this subject. This alone is not enough to help me sustain attention while reading. I may find myself wanting to drop the magazine reasonably frequently. This does not indicate that I am not interested in the subject. It may indicate that the articles about aerospace have not been written in an engaging manner. Rather, they are pedantic. Some specialized knowledge may have been presumed by the magazine’s authors and editors. This is not all. Very often,   I have heard the theory that humour is important to sustain attention. But, this is again subjective. Not all readers respond to humour. I personally do not always respond to humour. If there are people like me then you may have some set of individuals who do not respond to humour either. Then, humour does not help in sustaining attention for all readers alike, does it?
It may be suggested that if I am not able to read continuously then I can interact with experts in the field and understand the subject a bit more closely. This can make a difference to my attention span. ‘Continuity in reading’ is not just about attention span but also about the desire to transport yourself to a different world. This ‘different world’ belongs to the book.  You cannot always transport yourself if you are trapped in the ’real world’ which is your objective world of direct sensory experience.
In the first circumstance, changes in circumstance can help a child to find refuge in reading much more easily than an adult. An adult does not have a choice but to be a part of the real world. However, if a child has this choice and  sees reading as a permanent means of warding off stress then he would grow up to find solace in it even as an adult. To him, reading becomes a matter of incentive.
 In the second circumstance, the reader who is well on his way to becoming a subject matter expert reads not usually for entertainment but for learning. Although his preference may be to read non-fiction books, he may find fiction a form to unravel insights and perspectives. He becomes a reader with a purpose, nevertheless a voracious reader.    

 In the third circumstance, the reader looks for stimulation which is probably why he starts reading a book only after examining its reviews. He listens to quotations, weighs the impact and is pulled towards the book like a magnet. This reader looks for obsession. This obsession is not exactly pathological. It indicates the need to get stimulated by text.

The fourth circumstance appears to be similar to the first. There is actually a difference. In the first there is an event which drives one to read. In the fourth circumstance, reading is a discovery and seems almost accidental, but it is a matter of discovery rather than anything else. Reading then becomes exploratory.

The fifth circumstance indicates that the external world lacks intellectual/poetic justice which is usually found in books. This reader looks precisely for poetic justice. All genres of books, even tragedies have an end and this end is achieved. If it is emotional or moral justice then it is poetic. If it is more cognitive then it is intellectual justice.

I have given some circumstances where individuals can develop into voracious readers. Even if they are not exhaustive, I think they provide sufficient ground for spotting the rationale behind why voracious readers sustain attention without deliberate effort. 

Saying, one has to develop reading habit is in practice only appearance and not reality.


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