Sep 30, 2010

Reading Creatively or Yes! That’s What I’m Talking About!: A Guest Post by Trisha

Today’s guest post is by the wonderfully articulate and incredibly intelligent Trisha from eclectic/eccentric, and it’s about the wonders of being an active reader no manner the genre you’re reading (only that’s probably too simple a way to put it). This is a theme near and dear to me, as nothing disappoints me more than seeing otherwise intelligent readers fail to engage with a book because they’d decided beforehand it wasn’t worth of any serious intellectual attention. Trisha is a literature professor, and along with Andi or Jeanne she’s always there to remind me not to make silly generalisations about academia, even when I get frustrated with it. But enough blabbing from me: I’ll let Trisha’s excellent post speak for itself.

Reading Creatively

Ralph Waldo Emerson tells us "there is then creative reading as well as creative writing. When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion. Every sentence is doubly significant, and the sense of our author is as broad as the world."

Books, the ones we love, touch us by saying that which we cannot articulate ourselves. While reading - if we are truly, actively reading - we see connections to the world around us, to our own lives, to our own thoughts, and this makes the story itself even more powerful, full of truths momentarily captured.

This moment of shared imagining, shared insight, can spark a feeling of enlightenment, a feeling that something we have always known deep down has been discovered, interpreted, and made manifest by another. These are the moments that make you want to scream YES! THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT.

I read for this sensation, the feeling of connection with the text and with the author in those moments of realization. Sometimes the sentiment is one which is familiar:
There is the truth of history, and there is the truth of what a person remembers. As Sidda sat at the edge of Lake Quinault, memory blossoms floated unbounded, as though breathed, no words spoken. Like birds that fly across national borders, between countries at war with each other.
Historiography has long been an interest of mine – the disparity between what actually happened and what our own senses record and what actually gets told is a fascinating subject. Reading these words in a novel gave me that momentary sense of being connected on an intellectual level with the author. But the passage did more than that for me. It took the concept, the practical thought, and made it poetic and a bit more abstract; a sense of the import rather than just the literal idea. The second and third sentences in the passage elevate the concept of history by suggesting the flexibility of the mind to overcome boundaries, to float heedlessly wherever necessary, to remedy inconsistencies in memory.

Other times the sentiment is one which is unfamiliar, but obvious, a thought or insight we wish we would have already had:
Of the countless cruelties of racism, Sidda thought, one is the unspoken rule that white children, once we reach a certain age, are supposed to renounce the passionate love we feel for the black women who raised us. We’re supposed to replace it with a sentimental, patronizing affection.
Prior to reading this passage, I had never considered the horrible irony of white children living in a world which stressed their dominance over the very women who took care of them as a mother would throughout their childhood. That rite of passage, moving from the nanny’s child to the nanny’s superior, must have been extremely painful for both parties. I may have never considered this particular thought had I not read this book, and while my life may not be any different for knowing it, at the time of the reading, I was blown away by the recognition that I had not yet recognized such a horrifying truth.

Both of the above quotes come from The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells, a book I read two times back-to-back when I was 19 or 20. I chose this book to illustrate my point precisely because it is not an overly intellectual piece of canon literature. Every book - whether classic or contemporary, literary fiction or fantasy, novel or comic, adult or YA - every story has the potential to ignite something within the reader, a moment of intellectual connection with the text and with the world that can enrich the person’s reading experience.

Even a middle grade fiction fantasy novel like K.A. Applegate’s EverWorld series can have me nodding my head in agreement. In the second installment in the series, one of the characters explains that the ancient gods created a separate universe for themselves, and they brought all the creatures of myth and legend. And they dragged a healthy number of humans across with them, because, hey, what's the point in being a god if there's no one around to kiss your immortal butt?

Despite the humorous tone, my brain latched on to this thought as one I had considered many times. Without humans to worship them, what are the gods? I felt a kinship with the author and a greater respect for the text because of the simple inclusion of a familiar and yet thought-provoking statement.

Zora Neale Hurston, in Their Eyes Were Watching God, writes: There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought.

Many times my moments of YES! THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT occur because the thoughts being expressed are my own “formless feelings” which have not risen to the consciousness of words, and the author managed to make those revolving bits and pieces of insight come together like an intellectual jigsaw puzzle. Hurston’s quote represents one of those instances.

No matter if it’s the familiar, unfamiliar, or formless, the ideas presented in literature are what resonate with me, what keep me reading and thinking and reflecting. Are there any particular passages that resonated strongly with you? Any passages that made you want to stand up and scream Yes! That’s what I’m talking about! ?


  1. What a great post Trisha! I think that you said it all perfectly. So many times passages stop me and make me think - in fiction, non-fiction, young adult. Any book that doesn't do that is only meh, I think :)

  2. Wonderful post! Thank you!

    "The Polysyllabic Spree" by Nick Hornby was full of great "YES!" quotes for me regarding books and reading. One of my favorites is:

    "We are never allowed to forget that some books are badly written; we should remember that sometimes they're badly read, too."

    It reminds me that I play an active role in my reading (instead of everything being on the author to write a perfect book).

  3. As a writer, I love any post whose message is: "just give us a chance."

    Then walk away if we deserve it.

  4. I really value diversity in my life and I value it in my books too. A YA Fantasy novel can have just as much "YES!"-power than a vetted classic. It's so nice to read this articulated!

    I try to read actively, no matter what I'm reading.

    But sometimes it's nice not to be so active: when I sit down to read a romance novel "just for fun," I tend to read more passively, only wanting to be along for the ride. There are less of those "YES" moments, but it's a different kind of enjoyment.

  5. I love this post! I can think of one passage from 'To the Lighthouse' where Lily wonders what would happen if she just stopped being pleasant to the unpleasant man sitting next to her and what would happen if women stopped engaging in conversation in an effort to smooth social events. That book is full of things like that though, things that connect with formless thoughts and hit on things that should be obvious, but you've never really considered before.

    I love your idea that any book can be read creatively - YA is as able to produce deep connections as any classics.

  6. Beautiful post! I was just thinking about this yet my thoughts were organizing into categories of 'like' for a book - ok, maybe NOT related to your post much, but. oh nevermind. These thoughts ARE still formless, so I'll just echo an AMEN to your well-written creative thought-provoking post. And go think some more.

  7. I've had a few of those YES! moments recently while reading Regeneration by Pat Barker. They've all been in response to passages that deal with issues of masculinity and war. I will be posting them a bit later this week.

    That passage about white children and black women who have raised sad and true.

  8. What an inspiring post. Thanks for the reminder to be a more generous, thoughtful reader. And most of all, for the reminder to really enjoy what I'm reading.

  9. Bravo! I always know when I'm reading a potential favourite book because they're the ones that make me scream YES! I click with them, fully and completely. They illuminate truths I've been dancing around myself, or they force me to consider something in a slightly different light. Either way, they expand my consciousness and give me plenty to consider long after the story's over--and relatively few of them are what others would call deep, meaningful literature. I've found great and noble truths in everything from poorly-written pulp fiction to Nobel Prize winners, but I always feel awkward telling people how much the trashy books affected me. I've gotta work on that.


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