The Literary Blog hop allows me to flex my brain muscles, and really think about and consider a question, the likes of which my brain hasn't had to grapple with since the long ago times (like, a year ago) of my English degree. For making me think and stuff, please thank The Blue Bookcase, and you know, go look at their blog and stuff, because it's really very good!
This week, they ask: What other outside influences affect your reading experience? Do you think these influences enhance or detract from the experience?
I like this question. A lot. So I might get a bit wordy and explainy and annoying, so you might just have to ignore me a little bit towards the end. But, I think that the outside world, and pretty much everything in our lives affects our reading and understanding of books, and that this neither enhances or detracts from the reading experience, but just is, something that is so much a part of the reading experience, and without which we wouldn't really get much of anything at all from books. I recently saw Margaret Atwood on the tv talking about reading, holding a copy of The Blind Assassin, and this guy was asking her about her writing, and she said something that was at once utterly astonishing, and utterly true. She said that the words in the book are just symbols on a page, until someone reads them and places onto them their own thoughts and ideas and beliefs, and really make the words come alive with meaning. This is now the only way I can think about reading.
As for my own personal reading, I find that the things that I read are always impacted by what I already know, and sometimes the things that I read affect and change the way that I think. This is sometimes such a subconscious thing that I don't even know that it's happened, but now that I think about it, my favourite books are often a reflection of the things that I think and believe- To Kill A Mockingbird, for example, reflects my belief in the idea that everyone should be treated equally, and just how wrong and disgusting racism is, and The Handmaid's Tale relates to my very strongly held views on feminism. It might be a bit of a strong statement to make, but probably every book I've read has given me some kind of lesson that has helped to form or cement beliefs I've held, and helped to make me the person that I am, even if this hasn't always been a conscious lesson.
The things that different people bring to the things they read can be best illustrated by a conversation that I had with a guy at work last week, about an article by Christopher Hitchens that we had both read but had wildly differing opinions on. In it, he basically says that women aren't funny, because they are enough in themselves to be worshipped whereas men have to work harder to get women's attention, and are therefore funnier to get this attention. I honestly found this not a little bit sexist, and kind of shallow in that, in my view, it was essentially saying 'women are pretty, men are shallow, and therefore women don't have to be interesting or funny to get laid.' I found that pretty objectionable, but this guy at work had a completely different view of it, and pretty much thought it was dead on, presumably having had some experience of making girls laugh to attract them, and not having thought so much about feminism. I found our conflicting views fascinating, and now I think that this is probably something that can be said of every book- we can only like something in regard to what we already think and feel, and if someone doesn't like the same, then it's probably because they have had different experiences, different beliefs, and just now think differently about things than you do.
In a way it's a little lonely, but in another completely liberating to know that, while many many people read the same words in a book as you, nobody is having exactly the same experience as you reading it, and nobody ever can. Our own uniqueness comes across even when reading, and it also helps create our uniqueness, our tastes, and our beliefs too. Have I actually answered the question or just rambled on and been a bit weird? Probably a bit of both, but hopefully you see my point. And if you don't, then I guess we don't have the same beliefs and ideas and reading experiences.....