Needle and ThREAD

Reader Role

Shelly’s comment on Sunday’s Reading Roundup got me thinking again (which was the point, of course) about the role the reader plays in a story. I find the processes of writing and reading endlessly fascinating.

An author never writes the whole story. We draft character sketches and histories, details that never make it into the book. We write scenes and chapters that get cut. We imagine futures for the characters beyond the book.

Readers do much the same thing, and then some. Not only do we add histories and futures and details we imagine, we infuse what is actually written with our own experience and perspective. If an author writes that a character lives in a tiny house, one reader might imagine a 250-square-foot yurt while another imagines a 1,500-square-foot ranch-style home. Cornelia Funke seems to think the Aunt Elinor she created in Inkheart is a heavy, out-of-shape woman, while I’m certain she’s my thin, fit sister-in-law. (In casting Helen Mirren for the movie role, the movie folks seem to agree with me. What does the author know, anyway?)

I’m listening to Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead just now. I noted today how I compared a section with my own life and experience, as though the book were written about me or people I know.

When I re-read books, I find that different parts have more or less significance depending on what is going on in my life at the time. Something that made no impression on an earlier reading might suddenly strike me as timely and relevant.

What I say here about the books I read probably reflects more about me than the books themselves. My experience with a book will never be exactly like anyone else’s.

Categories: Needle and ThREAD, Reading