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Reading: Brain Workout

Musing Mondays2

This week’s musing asks reader’s reaction to this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt’s book, You Learn By Living:

“What counts, in the long run, is not what you read; it is what you sift through in your own mind; it is the ideas and impressions that are aroused in you by your reading.”

What do you think about this quote? Do you believe this to be true? If so, why and how? And, if not, why not?

Unless the book is very light (mindless) reading that doesn’t provoke any thoughts, the act of opening a book is an invitation to a conversation between reader and the words. The purpose of non-fiction is to inform and to educate; fiction tells story. My question is: What is behind a story? If life is the source of literature, then literature has to be faithful to life, faithful to real life. Reality is not manifestations of life but rather exists only though experience, a personal experience. In other words, under the surface of the words read, there exists a subtext , a realm of ideas and meanings that trigger thoughts and appeal to emotions on a very individual level. This is reality because it is only the perception of an instant and it can’t be related to another person, at least not in the same way. All these biochemical and mental reactions are part of the conversation ensued by reading. The brain is constantly sifting through information, culling the pieces that most appeal to one’s mental and emotional state. That is why we remember one fact over another from reading. At different time and station, the same idea might not even stand out because we are occupied with other predisposition. If human mind is so finical and the criteria with which we place a value of a literary work changes with time, it is important to take notes while reading, marking down important ideas suggested in a work. A trivial quote, a mere shift of tone, or a particular choice of words might not seem pivotal at the time of reading, they could be the hints to understanding the implications of a literary work after the last page is turned. A serious and conscientious reader is constantly sifting through what he reads. Reading is a brainy exercise.

8 Responses

  1. I’d like to think I am not mindlessly reading and that I do take something from everything I read. Maybe not mind altering, world boggling stuff but something – even if its just a nostalgic idea of what Paris looks like or a description of the Cotswolds!!!

    • On top of what appeals to me at the moment of reading, some ideas would come to me subconsciously, almost like reading an ad on the street but only to register later.

  2. ok, you may have lost me at ‘subtext’.
    Yes, I think literature has to be true to life, but the thing is, how people experience life is so wide a range, an almost infinite range, that the range of literature, not to even mention non-fiction…well, it is really big.

    • Not all novels have subtexts. Some are meant to be read just “as is.” For me the simpler the language, the more likely there will be subtext. Whereas non-fiction concerns facts, fiction can go any direction. Fiction is not necessarily bound by facts, but feelings and emotions.

  3. I found it interesting what you said about taking notes etc. I had a professor in university who told us “it’s all important, or why would the author go to the trouble of writing it”. At times, because I’m such a voracious reader, I forget to slow down, to actually think about what I’m reading. And yes, I think for most (I hope), the reading of fiction is a conversation. That’s the joy of it, for me at least.

    • I enjoy reading foreign/translated literature because like Caite mentions above, different people experience life differently, and it’s more the case when you grow up in another country. Conversation promotes connection and understanding, and this is what fiction serves.

  4. Great quote, and so true I think. I find that the more I engage in an active mental dialogue (sometimes more of a debate, or just downright name-calling) with a book, the more memorable it becomes for me.

    I’m not sure that literature has to be faithful to real life though. Although fantasy and science fiction are greatly scorned as genres by some, they can hold equally powerful subtexts and messages. There strength lies in the fact that they can attack issues and questions from completely different angles to what might be possible in true to life fiction. I guess it’s a matter of personal choice.

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