Reading Strategies: What Makes a Good Reader?
People believe good readers are those who can read anything that comes their way, can read fast, read much and read well, or have a set of preferences developed over a period of time with reading experiences. But they often miss out on one of the most important assets that goes into being a good reader: creative reading.
Creative reading isn't necessarily and only the flair to read between the lines and understand author's inherent intentions, suggestions or embedded allusions. It is the quality to be able to discern the genre and reading strategy of the book, to know if and when the author's intrusion is necessary to enjoy the book to its utmost, to be able to classify the books and authors according to varied parameters and know the time their reading will be best suited.
While classifying Books and their appropriate use Francis Bacon says " Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some others to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly and with diligence and attention." If a reader can successfully categorize his books in these categories and read accordingly, he/she can truly be called a creative reader.
Every Genre has a reading Strategy and every reading strategy can determine and affect your reading experience. When we read spiritual texts we often read them with our critical lenses kept aside. Though there are exceptions when people deconstruct the obvious notions of established facts and set on to write and read with an iconoclastic vision. But the fact is that you can truly enjoy a work of literature if you read it in the spirit in which it is written. To read Harry Potter or Narnia or Alice in Wonderland you have to get into the mode of 'willing suspension of disbelief' to really enjoy them. That is where the selection of genre and the reading strategies come together.
Similarly, to read an author's work in the light of his life experiences can give you a very good insight if you are reading a memoir, an autobiography, a biography or any other confessional literature. But to push the author's views, life and thinking into every other creative work of his might not be a very productive reading strategy.
This also varies from author to author, while some authors are known to have written confessional literature and works drawing material from their life, there are other authors who have always kept the creative and personal lives poles apart. A reader can miss out a lot on the underlying message if he/she reads Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Coleridge without delving into their Historical, social and personal background. But at the same time to read poets and writers like T.S.Eliot, Ezra Pound, and others who insisted on Impersonality and autotelic texts and by thrusting their personal lives onto their work might be hazardous.
Also, many people have a tendency to develop a certain kind of reading tactic which they invariably apply to every book they read. This often makes them dislike genres which do not fit their reading strategy. The key to enjoy reading is to become flexible when it comes to choosing books and to apply the reading strategy that best suits the work. Broadly classifying, there are two different types of reading strategies as laid down by literary critic Ronald Barthes.
Ronald Barthes divides works of literature into two types, the Readerly and the Writerly texts. He employs these terms to delineate one type of literature from another and to implicitly interrogate ways of reading.
The Readerly texts are those which open up to the reader on its own. The reader does not have to make any efforts to understand the plot, underlying meanings and the motives of the characters. In other words, Such kind of texts makes no requirement of the reader to "write" or "produce" his or her own meaning. It is a kind of passive reading where the reader is provided with 'ready made' meaning. The reader thinks what the author wants him to think and feel. Barthes opines that these types of texts are 'controlled by the principle of non-contradiction", i.e they do not disturb the common sense or 'dox' of the surrounding culture. Most or all of the Classic Literature falls into this category. Reading of such texts gives Pleasure to the reader..
The Other texts, the Writerly texts are the texts that aspires to the proper goal of literature and criticism to make the reader not the consumer but the producer of the text. Such texts are the ones which have the plot presented to the reader in the form of symbols, allusions, and other literary techniques. The writer has to get involved in the process of unveiling the meaning of the text to understand and appreciate it. Most of the Modern literature falls into this category. Reading of such kinds of texts gives Jouissance, a kind of Ecstasy. This ecstasy comes from deriving ones own interpretation of the text. It is in this context Barthes talks of his seminal concept of " The Death of Author". The author is dead in the sense that he does not determine the meaning of the text. The author's intentions in such reading is irrelevant and unnecessary. It is by the Death of Author there is 'The Birth of the Reader'.
Reading the Writerly texts is a challenging experience. Nonetheless, an exciting and creative one. People accustomed to Readerly texts, often get frustrated reading obscure and multi layered texts as these works do not have any preconceived meaning. Meaning to such texts differ from reader to reader and comes to life only when it is read.
Thus one has to be aware of the kind of reading strategies to be applied to a particular book before getting onto the task of actually reading it. It will not only help in a better appreciation of a work of art but will also, make reading an enjoyable experience.
PS: To avoid making this hub lengthier, i have written another hub on Reading Strategies. Read here.