I have been reading for a long time. Recently my scope of reading has expanded past horrors (and Stephen King), reading authors from across the world (India, UK, US, South Africa to mention a few) and all of them have varying writing styles. Of course they do, every writer has their own unique voice and way of story telling, which is what makes reading such a fun and engaging exercise. To “suspend disbelief” long enough for the stories and characters to be real in your mind, no longer hearing the creator but their creations. You can tell a Stephen King novel from Dean Koontz or Brandon Sanderson from Peter V. Brett by dialog alone. Which made me wonder about the other side of things.
Much as a writer has a voice, does a reader have an ear for reading? An ear that has the ability to “hear” deeper what the writer is saying below the words. We can all read Lord of the Rings and be amazed by the world building, taken by the magic, drawn in by the characters, and riveted by the story. However we all experience and draw varying conclusions at the end. We all hear a different message from the same text.
Let me clarify that a bit. When a writer writes a story, there is (a majority of the time) a theme or issue being addressed. The overarching theme. Most readers see this clearly. However, the story is made up of characters and each character has their own theme. Their own motivations. Plot arcs have their own theme. The world has its own theme. One can read a book and get the main idea and be satisfied. Another can read the same book, get the main theme and glean greater insight through the world, characters and plots, making the story fuller and richer.
As reference (I’m sorry okay!) Stephen King books are about real believable characters experiencing a fabricated horror. If you have read (or watched) The Mist you will understand what I mean: *No spoilers don’t worry*
After a mysterious mist envelops a small New England town, a group of locals trapped in a supermarket must battle a siege of otherworldly creatures . . . and the fears that threaten to tear them apart.
On the surface, you’re freaking out because OH MY GAWD! Otherworldly creatures are terrifying and the way King writes them you don’t need to watch the movie to be freaked out. But below that, the characters are memorable not for their battle against the creatures, but their personalities taking shape in light of the creatures. Take Mrs. Carmody for instance, whom I would have smashed in the face with a shovel… and I’m not a violent person (kinda). Her character tells a story of its own, of people like that in this day and age and those who support her almost blindly. There was a point where I hated Mrs. Carmody more than I feared the monsters outside. A little story within a bigger story.
I doubt I’m the only one who felt that way, but how many understood her “persona”, understood what made her tick, reading deeper into her character and the situation to give new depth to the whole book, that surface reading would not have provided.
A reader’s world view (the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world and life) is influenced by a variety of things: How they grew up. What they read growing up (or lack of reading). Their current stage in life. What they have experienced, taught, learned etc in life so far. Race. Culture. Religion. Plenty.
Their world view affects how they read too, to a level. Angela Meadon’s book Strong Medicine, resonated with South African’s who know that muti (traditional medicine) killings are real. This is the overarching theme that everyone who reads the book will see and even agree to. However, black South Africans read the book with a deeper resonance than white South Africans. South Africans would have a stronger reaction than say the French. Coupled with characters the story focuses on, the world where it all occurs and the minor plot points leading to the conclusion, South African readers’ ears would be more attuned to the story because of their world view.
Reader vs Writer
I have been a bit more focused on my writing this year than I have been before, and reading my book reviews from January compared to my recent book reviews is like a completely different person. As a writer, I feel like I’m seeing more because I understand the process behind writing. My world view has changed. My ear better attuned. I’m picking up things I completely missed or didn’t even think about before. Like characters and author intention – sometimes the author wants you to hate a character so they write them that way (Mrs. Carmody I referenced before as an example) on purpose. Sometimes a vague reference is made and my mind latches on to it, only for that vague reference to be fully realized later on and I’m already thinking, “Yep saw that coming.” I’ve noticed dialog structure, world building nuances, even the authors voice. Here are excerpts from some of my book reviews:
Especially with repeating people’s names during conversations. It was obvious the idea was to bypass the “Ryder said”, “Mashego replied” “Navi answered” etc of identifying the speaker or to whom the speaker was speaking to, but it also broke the “normal-ness” of dialogue.
~Plain Dealing by Ian Patrick
I did, however, find myself wondering if all the characters were the same as they bore the same sort of characteristics often. There was even a story where I was convinced the character was female (as most of them are) and was surprised when he wasn’t.
~ Sticky Fingers by JT Lawrence
Sukanya Venkatraghavan said about my review of her book Dark Things:
You are the first reviewer to write about the shift in perspectives.
Reading as a Writer
I was a surface reader. I read the novel without noticing anything but the unfolding tale. Now I’m seeing so much more in a novel. At times it’s great and at other times it’s frustrating. I’ve wondered if my reviews tend to be negative because of this new insight. If being a writer versus a reader, has dampened by reading experience.
There are novels (Endgame: The Calling for one) where the story is so engaging those things don’t even come to the fore. I look forward to those books.
Are you a reader? What’s your experience when reading? Are you a writer? Do you experience the same things when reading a book? Anything you want to discuss, please feel free to do so in the comments below. 🙂
This is an absolutely masterful post. It is so insightful. E.B. White writes about “listening to your mind’s ear” as you write in ELEMENTS OF STYLE, but your “take” on the “reader’s ear” is a brand new, totally original thought! You gave me something to think about this morning.
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. It’s been on my mind a lot recently, especially in light of the books I have been reviewing. I feel like I’m looking for the negative things about the book but I realized it’s because my “ear” is listening differently.
So true; that’s called “growth” or “maturity”, young man.
Also, Emerson once wrote, in an essay (paraphrase) No two people read the same book. (Although they ARE reading the same book.) Your discourse in this post is in “good company” of other thinkers who have perused the same thought!
I have never been compared to E.B White or Edmund Wilson before. Thanks Rae. Truly appreciate your comments.
Such a brilliant post! I definitely understand what you mean. On occassion, I found myself reading in ‘writer mode’ or sometimes even ‘reviewer mode’. I worry about that one more.
Sometimes I think I look to critically at a book because I’m going to review it and I try my best to step back and think about how I felt reading it.
Thanks! and Agreed! My last book review The War Between was actually a good book, and I only realized about 80% in that I was looking for flaws. Thankfully I didn’t find any but the idea was still there rather at the back of my mind instead of just stepping back and enjoying the book for what it was.
I could say I was only a reader at first. Reading a book because I enjoyed reading it. But a year back I started writing things on my own and then the “writer button” clicks every time I read something. My brain just wants to pick faults in it and I just end up shutting my brain up and just enjoying the story and the writing.
And if I’m correct, is Mrs. Carmody the woman who is a Christian or something related and says almost stupid things? I might be wrong because I saw the movie and don’t really remember the characters distinctly.
I wish I could shut my brain up. I’m struggling to read the book I’m reviewing for next week because my inner writer is cringing at every sentence. Yes every sentence. Anyway, it’s interesting to see how being a writer actually affects how you read.
Also, yes, Mrs. Carmodody was the “Christian” woman using truths to justify her actions which… yeah like I said. Shovel to the face. If you’ve watched Carrie (or read it) her mom was a similar character.
As much as I want to read Stephen King, I never get around it. I just read his book containing 5 short stories which in turn were adapted to form movies (1408 starring John Cusack). And I heard pretty great things about Carrie, It and The Shining. But I will soon get to read those.
And yes, I forgot to mention how greatly you wrote this post as I too thought about the perks of being a ‘writer’ reader. I just forgot to mention it in the previous comment.
I read that short story book too and then watched 1408 with John Cusack and Samuel L Jackson. Movie was meh but I enjoyed the book. Another John Cusack Samuel L Jackson Stephen King movie is out now too. Cell. Read the book hope the movie is just as good.
And thank you. I took a couple of days to wrap my head around this blog post, so glad it was enjoyable. 🙂
It was indeed very enjoyable. And thanks for these recommendations. I’ll surely read them.
Yeah, welcome to the life of the writer-as-reviewer. What I’ve learned to do is figure out the difference between what I like as a writer and as a reader vs. the audience the writer/book is aiming for. I’ll evaluate a book on personal like, but also on whether or not it would appeal to its target audience–which may or may not be me. Although lately I’m trying to review more books that I personally have an interest in, because to a certain extent, it’s not fair to the author if I review a book in a genre I don’t get. Nice post!
Ah yes, I didn’t think being a writer-as-reviewer would be this drastic of a mindset change. That’s a good way to look at reading though. I think I do that automatically when I’m trying not to be too critical of a book I’m reading. Just step back and look at it as the “general populace”. But it’s not easy.
I’m actually trying to delve into other genres, I think it widens your scope of both writing and reading, and gives you a better understanding and view of what others are reading and writing. Those are the hardest to review though haha.
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