Sunday, December 11, 2011

[December 11th] From Reactive to Proactive Reading or How I changed My Reading Patterns

I'm sexy and I'm reading

In my preparation for the Weird Wednesday feature, whose launch date remains as January 4th 2012, I have encountered something about my reading I have not paid much attention to and I assume is private due to the nature of my language situation. I know enough English to write, read and express myself on an above average level among my peers, who have had the same educational profile and have not studied English at university level. Reading books has never been challenging, apart from those written in an intentionally modified English [“The Color Purple”] or older books [“The Vampyre”]. Being a native benefits the reading experience in such cases, but otherwise I’m doing fine with literature.

Or so I would think. Until recently, I’ve been ignoring a trend in my reading, exemplifying an interest in quantity of reading rather than quality. Back in my school years, when I studied in a private group every weekend on top of my school studies, my teacher used to make us read everything and anything. Newspaper articles, magazine articles, book passage, passages from a more scientific text, from and outside our textbooks. Eventually we moved to books and we had to read a book over the summer, mark down all the new words and add those to our own vocabulary, so that when the time came to talk about the books, a barrier has been lifted and I understood more about the book. This continued during high school, where I studied typical US/UK classics such as The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Scarlet Letter, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Ayre. While I enjoyed all these books, I can’t say the same about the reading, notes with new words, bringing out the dictionary, spending afternoons writing the new words and pronouncing them and then returning to the text. This killed the joy in reading and at the time I had grown to be an avid, if a bit slow a reader.

You have to understand that for a teenager, studying causes an allergic reaction, which brings out chronic postponing of any kind of academic activities. At the time, I felt like studying will never end for me and I tried to avoid anything to do with studying. So when I graduated and took up reviewing, I took to reading for pleasure, which is to say that I only read. Never tried to engage with the text in another way. If there was something that I didn’t understand then I would use the context and go on with the story. Sometimes this helped me get through some books easier with minor communication breakdowns between me and the text. Other times I had lucked out and did need a dictionary to help me along the way. “A Book of Tongues” is a perfect example of how the prose acted against me, no matter how much I loved reading this twisted tale. This time around I did try to get out some of the words, translate, then assemble all the fragments of understanding and confusion into a coherent narrative, but seeing as how I fell behind on my schedule and diminished chances of reading more books, writing more of the self-serving reviews I did back then, fighting to come ahead the bloggers who read more and faster, I rushed the process and never returned to it.

It’s complicated to explain what I mean by ‘passive’ or ‘reactive’ reading, but it deals with a preoccupancy with number of books read, the act of having read something, stating that you have completed a novel everyone else has, modeling choices of books based on trends in the blogging circles [where the ‘new shiny’ rules, not that I have anything against it]. It’s easier to blame external forces for this behavior, but that’s not quite true, because I made all decisions when it came to my own reviews and blogging. Subsequently, I took stories with dragons and magic to be simple stories about magic and dragons without thinking further. A friend of mine once told me that SFF literature is the most potent of all kinds of genres, because it has layers upon layers to utilize and comment upon our own reality, better than other genres have. I’m quite proud to say that the man is a psychologist, erudite and has serious, always active views on everything.

Yesterday, as I started to read The Weird edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer I faced a rather winding and ornate foreword by Michael Moorcock. I had difficulties catching on to some of his thoughts and felt lost in the general purpose of the text. The language barrier rose high as it had back during my school years and I had a choice. Read it once and try to decipher it on my own in the privacy of the back of my mind or surrender, grab the dictionary and return to where I began all those years before in reading in English.

I grabbed the dictionary. Read the “Foreweird” by Michael Moorcock and the introduction by the VanderMeers, sat down with a journal for my thoughts, a notebook for the words that I did not know and Longman’s Dictionary of Contemporary English and studied. Contrary to what I expected, studying this time around brought immense pleasure. For obvious reasons, doing anything because you so choose is pleasing in itself as opposed to forced practice from any educational institution. But there is more than that. The fact that I chose to return to this text and re-read with the new words in my mind stimulated my thought process, pushed me to add something from myself into my opening post for the Weird Wednesday feature based on the words of Moorcock and the VanderMeers rather than summarize as I usually happen to do. I think that this is what pro-active reading is all about, opening to the text and working on how the words can influence me. Needless to say, this process for me has to be more conscious and I can’t say for certain if anyone can relate to me. Language is not a tough barrier to remove. You think you know it, but then it surprises you.  

In short, I’m leveling up, which is quite due, seeing as I’m in my twenties already and time is not waiting for anyone.

I think I went overboard with this post and I doubt anyone has hung long enough to make any comments, but I’d like to hear from you about your adventures in reading. How has your act of reading changed given any given circumstances?