The art of reading

"... the art of reading is slowly dying, that it's an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day."

~ Carlos Ruiz Zafon, from Shadow of the Wind

I read this quote on someone elses blog and it fascinated me.

I think that he captures what reading means to me perfectly when he states "that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind". I think that what he is trying to say is that we immerse our mind and our emotions in the books that we read - and that is something that I identify with (mostly anyway, lets face it, I am not too invested in Dan Brown or John Grisham, no matter how much I may be enjoying it). I cry when I am moved by a book, I put it down when I feel that it is becoming too tense. I think about the characters while I am reading, and even while I am not. I often lose my sense of time and place when I read, becoming wholly engrossed in the world created by the author.
I think that I read with all of my heart and mind.

I also love the way Ruiz Zafon refers to reading an "intimate ritual". That phrase is so suggestive and sensual that I would not have connected it with reading at all.

It made me wonder though - is reading a ritual for me? I looked up ritual in the dictionary and found that most definitions or ritual have some reference to religious practices. The broadest definition said "any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner." In light of this, I couldn't honestly say that reading was a ritual. Although I read regularly, it is not in any set manner.  I do mainly read on the train to and from work - but I don't have to. Sometimes I prefer just to stare out the window and allow my thoughts to wander. I don't hold my book in any particular way, or turn my pages in any particular way. I just pull out a book and read whenever it suits me.

What about intimate? Intimate suggests private, closely personal, deep. I certainly lose myself in books and that is a very personal experience in the sense that you disappear within yourself completely and enter into a new world or reality, albeit briefly. But is that an intimate act in accordance with the definition? I think not. Reading isn't quite private enough to be considered intimate, at least for. When I think of intimacy I think of telling my friends my inner most thoughts, or lying naked with my partner in bed. Not reading. The act of reading itself can be a personal experience, but I like to share my reading with others. I talk about the books that I have read, debate their strengths and weakness and discuss what books I would like to read in the future. Those are all part of what reading means to me - and it takes away some of the intimacy of the actual act.

And yet... I can't help but love the phrase "intimate ritual". It makes reading sound so soft and pleasurable. Although in a practical sense I don't think that it accurately describes what reading is to me - it does capture that pleasurable feeling I experience when I read.

Is a book a mirror that only offers us what we already carry inside us? This really fascinates and puzzles me at the same time. I am not really sure was Ruiz Zafon means by this. Is he trying to say that those books we identify with most reflect our own experiences and beliefs? Is he trying to say that we will only get from a book what we can put into it? I have heard a lot of people say similar things about books and have always been equally puzzled by it. Perhaps it is because it doesn't reflect my experience of reading - there are so many different books on so many different issues that I have been moved by, I wouldn't know where to begin any attempt to analyse how they might all reflect what is inside of me.

What does all of this amount to?

Is the art of reading slowly dying? Are great readers becoming more scarce? Can reading even be considered an art? I can't answer these questions - I am not sure that anyone can - but I would love to know what other people think.  

1 comment

  1. wow nice blog The broadest definition said "any practice or example of conduct consistently performed in a set way." In light of this, I couldn't genuinely say that perusing was a custom. Despite the fact that I read consistently, it is not in any set way. I do for the most part read on the prepare to and from work - however I don't need to. Some of the time I incline toward just to gaze out the window and permit my musings to meander. I don't hold my book in a specific manner, or hand my pages over a specific way. I simply haul out a book and read at whatever point it suits me.

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