I have this Magellan-esq idea about reading that I want to explore today...
In my experience, reading (for a writer) is something like an opera singer's scales, a kind of preparation of the whole body for the writing work that comes after (months after, years after, moments after). It's the best place I know to get my conscious-editor mind and my writer-mind to meet on some common ground. It's like going on a journey with a boat full of Me.
The Me's in the boat are--sensory me, who reads; writing me, who loves to swing words around but can't look through the side or rear view mirrors, and editor me, who likes to figure out how all the contraptions are built. Really, it's the book itself that is our territory. The moments the book does something inside me--hits me in the solar plexus, makes the top of my head tingle, gives me a new kind of vibration in my hands or feet, makes my inner eye create pictures, gives me a heavy, settled-in feeling, jingles in my ear--that are the scenic lookouts, the encounters with wildlife, the hairpin turn, the trees.
I love how the cartographer's or bird watcher's spirit animates that idea-- the idea of reading for completeness, for discovery, to give the body and mind a full-immersion experience with language, and its co-vessel, craft. We settle into the text with our unified selves, like fly-fishers, or Columbuses, or canoers up the Amazon......
What I’m saying is this: every book is a territory, a geography, unmapped by our own mind until we’ve read it, until we’ve been there. A full penetration into the jungle of otherness, over the leafy floor on the swinging vines of words. Liking the book isn't important. The aim is completeness. The aim is a cartography. The aim is nothing more or less than the complete exploration of the effect on ourselves of everything that can possibly be said.
Reading hits the mind in any number of places:
And more. It hits the mind, and it often hits it so well, and so subtly, that it's hard to figure out where the book struck.
The goal for the writer is not just the reader’s joy, the reader’s transport, but also the doctor’s clinical observation and analysis of this joy and transport. To take books apart and figure out how they work on the reader.
Writing is a stunning business. We put down a charged line of letters, a form of communication, richer and more textured than actual depicting speech. If we're lucky (especially in the tiny enacting contraption that is a poem), every word vibrates like an excited electron and has the ability to send off sparks. We will never really know how our words are detonating in the mind of the Big Other (see Lacan) when we put them on a page and pass them across a table to someone we have never met. How their impact is being created and recreated in the brand new, not-our-own body.
The writer who reads must test this kinetic-body-mind-recreation process in the only reader she knows personally—the only reader to whom she has direct bodily access: herself.