Recently I had the pleasure of reading a great book called Anticipating Education by Dr. Deborah Britzman. The book is a collection of some of her lectures and/or talks on using psychoanalysis to reflect on pedagogy. In the book, there is a fascinating chapter about reading. Britzman talks about her early memories of reading, her struggles, her process of becoming an avid reader and how reading influenced her personal and professional life. In describing reading, Britzman writes,
“I would have to say that reading is not only an interpretive act. It is also one of imagination and how the mind functions that involves attention, reception, hallucination, bodily action, refinding and memory. Reading forms associative pathways between the inner and outer world. There is something before interpretation and it has to do with transference, and susceptibility to our projections of life’s impressions, to the act of becoming absorbed and lost in the other’s words, and to the desire to escape into reading.”
Britzman’s description of reading made me reflect on my own reading and I realized that reading for me has gone through many different phases throughout the course of my life. As a child, reading for me was certainly what Britzman describes as “becoming absorbed and lost in the other’s words” and “the desire to escape into reading.” Reading was without a doubt my most loved activity. I remember reading every chance I got. I read everywhere and anywhere possible. And I read anything I could get my hands on. I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in the stories and imagining the events, places and characters.
One of my vivid memories of reading as a young girl was reading Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind when I was nine years old. Now, those of you who have read the book know that it is quite a thick book. I was mesmerized by the story and the imagery it created in my mind as I was reading it. As a nine year-old girl, I knew next to nothing about the history and the context of the story. But I could imagine Scarlett O’Hara (the female protagonist). I felt her love, her pain and the challenges she faced. I admired her for her courage and got angry with her when she did something that was, in my opinion, utterly selfish. I re-read Gone with the Wind again many years later as a young woman. This time, however, I was more fascinated with other characters, especially Mr. Butler (The male protagonist), and I was interested in the historical aspects and the social and racial class systems shown in the story. So, although the story was the same, because I had changed/grown as a reader, I saw/appreciated different aspects of it.
I also remember reading books that where not age-appropriate, although at the time I did not quite understand. I remember I once found the novel A Woman of Thirty by Balzak in my parents’ library. I was 14 years old at the time. I began reading the book, but as soon as my mom saw the book in my hands, she took it away and said, “This is a book about a 30 year-old woman, You are a 14 year-old girl. It’s too early for you to read it.” I did not understand what she was talking about at the time. Years later, when I read the book, I laughed remembering my mom’s words. I guess she had a point.
I was eleven when I was introduced to Pride and Prejudice, and I don’t think it is necessary for me to say that I immediately fell in love with Austen’s novels. It has been an enduring love and I have re-read her novels many many times throughout the years, every time finding new sources of pleasure in her stories and characters.
Then came the phase when I read to satisfy my curiosity and thirst for mystery. I devoured every Agatha Christie book I could get my hands on. I then moved on to Arthur Conan Doyles’ Sherlock Holmes series. I remember, very vividly, how I used to read so carefully, trying to read between the lines to see if I could solve the mystery before I reached the end.
Around 10 years ago, I came across a mystery novel by Georgette Heyer, and I immediately fell in love with her style of writing. Soon, I realized that this brilliant writer also wrote many amazing romance novels. She is described as the next best thing to Jane Austen, and I whole-heartedly agree with that description. I am confident that Jane Austen herself would have enjoyed reading Heyer’s books and would have approved of her character developments, her use of proper language, and her amazing sense of humour.
They say you are what you read. We, each of us, are influenced by what we read. But I also believe that we influence the quality of our reading. In other words, we enjoy what we read, or what we imagine as we read, because of who we are and our past experiences. As Britzman so eloquently describes,”what reading teaches is that nothing is what it seems to be, that reality, too, must pass through my subjective world and that within the act of interpreting there is an allowance for our earliest mental paradox, namely, that we are always reading for what cannot be seen but can still be imagined.”
What about you? Do you ever reflect on your reading experiences? How have your reading habits and/or preferences changed? Do you agree with Britzman that when we read, what we see is more than mere interpretation of the words, rather it is a transference of our subjective world?