What it Means to Read

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Imagine yourself in that room, cozied up in the bed with one of those many books in your hand. You crack the spine and the smell of parchment fills your nose. And in that blissful state of mind, you begin to read. What is it that you are doing, then and there? What does it mean when you say, “I am reading?” Are you transmitting a series of words strung together in a specific way from the pages to your memory? Are you thinking about those words and their meaning as you flip the pages? Are you seeking, questioning, analyzing those meanings? Are you carrying those words with you when you get up off that cozy bed and reshelve that book? Are you different after experiencing those words? We don’t ever really think about the act of reading when we read or think about what it means to be reading something.

Alberto Manguel, in A Reader on Reading, forces us to think about exactly that. He presents to us the idea of the ideal reader in an almost checklist sort of way, of all the things an ideal reader is and some things that an ideal reader is not. In that list he covers the physical, the mental, the psychological, and the social aspects of what it means to be an ideal reader. One of my favorites was that “The ideal reader is also the ideal sitter” (151). I laughed. It is such a simple thing, yet so intriguing. The importance of being able to sit in order to read well is not an association that jumps immediately to mind. It makes you think about something that never crossed your mind before. I think Manguel would approve of my reading of his book. This is only a little glimpse of what it means to actually read. Reading is an active activity. It is not just about skimming the surface with your feet, but head on diving into the very depths in order to fully experience the act. You cannot know the ocean if haven’t been in it. Manguel is depicting the importance of that very idea – to be able to absorb wholly and become one with the words. That is when we truly read. 

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2 thoughts on “What it Means to Read

  1. He really does dive into the very idea of reading. It challenged me to analyze how I find myself reading anything. For instance, the first week I found myself skimming a lot more, and it was almost as if the first couple pages of reading this week were calling me out personally for that. Found myself humbled and essentially starting over!

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    • I totally agree, James. I think the most important takeaway from Manguel was to become conscious not only about reading, but also about how we are reading. I think the most difficult part of that is the self-analysis and seeing what you are and aren’t doing. It is great that you were able to do that. Like I mentioned in the post, that first chapter about the ideal reader was like a checklist for me. I checked off the different things mentally as I read through. It definitely created a self-awareness of where I stand as a reader and what I can do better.

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