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Readers are Artists, Just Like Authors

Post by Cassi Broach
Posted February 12, 2013 in NoveList Plus, NoveList Select, Readers' Advisory News

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Set the scene:

You have a book in your hands, one you've been dying to read. You feel the solid weight of it, the smoothness of the unbroken spine. "Don't judge a book by its cover," the adage goes, but the allure of it nonetheless draws you in, compels you to devour the magic held in place by paper, page by page. You crack it open -- that indescribable, heady book smell. As you turn the pages, a world is built in your brain and you become the architect  of your journey between these pages. 

In an interview with Catherine Sword of the radio program "Shelf Life", NoveList's Duncan Smith proclaimed, "Readers are artists too, just like authors. Every reader rewrites every book they read." As an avid reader, this got me thinking about the art of reading itself and the ways readers create worlds of their own, prompted by the text of a book.

When was the last time you saw a movie or TV show based on a beloved, much read book that was so wildly different from what you constructed mentally you just couldn't get on board with it, no matter the quality of the acting or the accuracy of the dialogue? I'm sure all of you are familiar with that twinge of disappointment as you try and fail to reconcile the picture on the screen with the world that exists in your head. When was the last time you argued with a friend, colleague, or teacher about the nuance of meaning in a particular passage or the motivations behind a character's actions? I've scrambled my brains more than a few times trying to decipher a proposed meaning for which I have neither understanding nor context. For you, that book and the world it contains is forever changed, infiltrated by the art of a fellow reader. 

Where do you go from there? Do you return to the book itself, fervently trying to assemble some semblance of the world you once imagined? Do you construct mental barricades against the onslaught of opinion contrary to your own? Do you begrudgingly accept this strange new world?

Let's set the scene again:

You have a book in your hands, the worn cover of your favorite paperback. Its beloved and broken spine is a comfort; the familiar words are a quiet music that gift your attuned reader's ear with rhythms you know like the narration of your own history. The smell evokes the cracked leather library chair you lounged in as a petulant teenager, reading it cover to cover for the first time. You have journeyed with this book; your mind built worlds around it and those worlds lay open at your feet. 

As readers, we rewrite every book that we read: in our own writing, in our internal monologues and histories, in the stories we tell ourselves and others. Books inform the art of living, and when we encounter an alternate art contrary to our own, the reaction is to paint over it in our colors -- to make it, again, familiar. We may paint over it, but the unfamiliar still lurks just beneath the surface, adding strangeness and dimension to the art we are compelled to return to, time and time again. 

Listen to the original radio interview here: Part 1& Part 2


Cassi Broach is the communications specialist at NoveList. A self-professed cat lady and Francophile, Cassi spends much of her time outside NoveList writing post-apocalyptic poetry, cooking something spicy, and dreaming of Paris.