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Random Thoughts: Readers

No two readers are alike.

No two people share the exact same history. No two people share the exact same experiences. No one shares the same brain. At least not yet.

So, two readers who pick up the same book on the same day and read it at the same time may find that the way they connect with the story is very different. Even if both love the genre. Even if both love the author. Even if both love the characters. And even if, ultimately, both love the book.

When we read a book, if the author has done their job well, we as readers get transported into a world that is framed by them and colored in by us. We bring our own set of emotional responses right along with us to each and every read. We bring our own brains and ways of processing information. We bring our own biases, prejudices and scars.

If we’ve suffered the loss of a loved one we may make a stronger connection with a character who’s going through the same thing we did. We may choose to distance ourselves from them so as not to revisit our own pain. Or we may find that the character’s suffering pales in comparison to what we’d expect them to feel, because we felt that pain so strongly.

We may love the drama that comes with the introduction of a love triangle because we thrill to the idea of a heart divided. We may sympathize because we’ve been torn between two loves ourselves. Or we may despise it as we’ve seen what falling in love with another can do to our families.

We may love to read about heartbreak, despair, violence, horror or loss because these stories make our own problems seem insignificant. We may hate to dive into a book that tackles real life issues as it won’t provide the escape we seek.

We may love a happily ever after because we remain hopeful that life is filled with happy endings. Or we may scoff at such foolishness as we know life to be so very different.

Wherever we come from, whatever we’ve done, whatever we’ve experienced shapes who we are as readers. And it not only informs the types of books we read, but the ways in which we love or hate them.

And yet, with all these differences we, each of us, bring to the stories we read, it is always a surprise when our friends, family, co-workers, colleagues don’t feel the same as we do. They don’t ache for the characters’ plights. They don’t bite their nails in anticipation of what is to come. They don’t feel the writing is as eloquent or as meaningful as we believe it to be. They don’t love the book that rendered us speechless, tore out our hearts, left us bleeding and broken.

Because we’ve made such a strong connection to the story we can’t possibly imagine someone not making that same connection. And instead of trying to see things from their perspective we try to force them to see things from ours.

But they’re not us. And their opinions are just as valid to them as ours are to us. Their life experience that brought them to the very point in time they picked up that book has affected them no less than our experiences have.

Being a like-minded reader does not mean being the same person. It does not mean relating to each and every detail in the same way. It does not mean loving or hating something for the exact same reasons.

So as we criticize someone for their point of view, as we choose to dismiss their lack of interest in something we feel so passionately about, we might do best to remember when the tables were turned and our experience of a book was less impassioned than theirs.

And as lovers of stories that open our minds and expand our universe, we may want to be just as open to other opinions, interpretations and experiences. We may find that truly looking at another reader’s perspective on something we love will give us a greater understanding of why we love it. And as we plead our case we may find that we will have grown to love it even more.

We who love stories and books that take us to new worlds, invite us into the lives of new characters, allow us to escape our own existence for just a few short hours should always remember that the journey we take is our own. That it’s one that no one else will take. That it’s one that no one else can experience as we have. It’s ours alone.

As readers we take each book and make it our own. We mold it into what we imagine it to be within the confines of the author’s written words. It’s a story we helped to create. It’s our story.

So when we form our opinions of that book, it’s not only the author’s story we are critiquing, but the story we shaped it into. So our love or hatred is of the story we built it up to be or the story we helped to tear apart.

Which may be the very reason why we defend our viewpoints so strongly. We’ve tied our emotions and ourselves to the story and anyone who has an opposing view is not only criticizing the author’s story but our own.

We feel each “sling” and “arrow” as the author would. We feel each criticism as an attack on who we are. We feel that those who don’t believe in the story don’t believe in us.

And because we make each story ours, each word against it is a word against us. Each attack is personal.

But it shouldn’t be.

Because the story they’re attacking is the story they’ve helped to form – not our story. The story they’ve built – not the one we did.

So it’s their story they find fault with. And alternately, it’s their story they love.

While we may be reading the same words, in the same order, by the same author, bound in the same cover, we are by no means reading exactly the same book.

So before we pass judgment on those who agree or disagree with our assessment, we may want to think about what the story would be like if we weren’t the readers we are.

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