In Praise of the Creativity of the Reader

Reading, I had learned, was as creative a process as writing, sometimes more so. When we read of the dying rays of the setting sun or the boom and swish of the incoming tide, we should reserve as much praise for ourselves as for the author. After all, the reader is doing all the work–the writer might have died long ago.

– Jasper Fforde, Thursday Next: First Among Sequels

reading_as_adventureWhen I think about the worlds of fantasy that I’ve visited through literature, I am awed by the fact that simple words on a page can induce such hallucinatory visions.

Sure, the reader has to have the words to read, so the writer is necessary, but only in the same way that a car’s engine is necessary for speeding along an interstate, weaving between cars, while evading the flashing red and blue lights of reality. No one thinks about the engine unless something breaks down.

Indeed, it is the reader who must supply the faces of characters, the tonal qualities of their voices, the gaits of their walks. The reader is the one who paints the canvas of a book’s outline with brushes of past experience and imagination.

This can, of course, lead to difficulty when the reading experience is shared with other people. For one thing, the pronunciation of names can vary greatly. I remember when I finally discussed the Harry Potter novels with my wife, I mentioned something about Herm-ee-own, to which she responded, “Her-my-owe-knee?”

But this variation of experience between readers gives us more than embarrassment; it gives us insight. When we read, we discover ourselves at least as much as we discover the characters in the book. After all, we are supplying the never-mentioned details. And when we discuss our reactions to books with others, we reveal the things that we felt to be important or noteworthy.

Reading is so much more than letters assembled into words. It is our key to a world within.

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One response to “In Praise of the Creativity of the Reader

  1. Perhaps that prerequisite trait of creativity is why I do not like to read: it is a trait in which I am deficient. Granted, I have enjoyed a small handful of books over my lifetime, but more often reading is a chore. I would rather spend my free time passively observing the creative interpretations of others through mediums such as movies or plays (or musicals, but rarely). For me, written language (and perhaps even verbal language) is a means for conveying information, neither optimal nor even efficient for telling a story. Don’t tell me, show me.

    P.S. I’ll still buy your book(s) when you get published, but I might never read them, waiting instead for the movie.

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