Last week I heard Belinda Jack on the Book Hub on RN. An academic who thinks a lot about how we read. The book takes us through the history of writing and then reading; from ancient times to modern listening habits.
Jacks also gives us her clearly thought out idea of what reading is and why it is so interesting a concept.
Reading is one of the things most of us do in Western societies. (Although there are thought to be uptown 20% of the World's population who are not literate) It is not an innate learned ability like speaking, that is acquired through mimicry, but has to be taught to us. We do not think too much about it as once you can read it becomes so automatic. But, as Jacks, explains reading is an underdeveloped area of research that involves physical (eyes) neurological (brain) and neuropsychological (mind) coordination. What we read can have an emotional, spiritual, motivating, entertaining or informative effect on us. Where we read and with whom can also influence the effect of the reading.
Reading can be done on one's own or with others, in public places flaunting the title or done in secret, it can be part of our education, a powerful symbol or an a political act of deference or defiance.
Books can be objects of love and veneration as in Buddhist texts, not for reading but for holding, looking and admiration. Medieval texts, it has been argued by scholars could be read in many different ways; aloud to the illiterate, silently by a lone reader and giving different meanings to those who partook.
Jacks explains that reading is an interpretive act; even the simplest of language needs some understanding and interpretation. She gives the example of a recipe, clear instructions to be followed by the reader that need to be interpreted in the way the writer intended.
What I got from both hearing Jack on the radio and reading the book was that reading is far more complex thing that most people imagine. It involves many parts of our brain and connects us to our feelings. This reaffirmed for me that Shared Reading is a pursuit that is good for everyone and does little harm, if any. Reading of any sort, aloud with others, or as a solitary act, connects us with feelings, time and situations and allows us to explore these at a safe distance and in a safe space.
Reading A Very Short Introduction by Belinda Jack published by Oxford University Press 2019