In this post, I had intended to write my reflections on Nabokov’s “Transparent Things,” which I started reading over fall break. However, I found myself first analyzing the structure, wordplay, and characters without giving myself time to simply enjoy the novel. And, I want to enjoy the novel—like most of Nabokov’s work, it is witty and bizarre, and provides a truly fun reading experience. Furthermore, as a writer, I consider Nabokov one of my creative muses, but I always prefer to first read his work for enjoyment. Realizing that reading for enjoyment counters the traditional academic definitions of reading as a reader and of reading as a writer, I began to consider and question what it means to read as a reader or as a writer.
For much of my life, I did not consider whether I read as a reader or a writer. I simply read for fun or because I was required to. As a child, though I was a voracious and enthusiastic reader, I was rather sloppy—even when reading required material, I read quickly for the purpose of following the plot and throwing myself into the world of the story. Later, sometime in middle or high school, I learned of the concept of an “active reader,” in which the reader intentionally looks for the message and meaning behind a story by seeking information through themes or other literary devises. An active reader is the ideal reader in an academic setting. However, I still do not always read actively when I am reading for pleasure, as it is sometimes more emotionally rewarding to simply discover and be in another world. Based on requirements and interest, I choose whether to read for pleasure—for the story, for the feeling; or to learn—to actively seek information. Though I imagine “reading as a reader” means to read actively, I have come to the conclusion that a reader who reads simply for the sake of reading can choose to intellectually seek information or to read for emotional pleasure, and that either type of reading is worthy.
I did not learn of the concept of reading as a writer until I began writing creatively at Vassar; hence, I did not until recently separate the ideas of reading as a reader versus as a writer. In an academic setting, reading as a writer means to try to understand how a writer wrote a story instead of why they wrote it. While reading as a writer, one identifies the structure and elements of the writing, and no longer looks for the message or purpose of the story. This implies that reading writers ought to judge rather than feel the story.
It seems to me that this academic presentation of reading as a writer is lacking, because it does not allow for reflecting on emotions while reading a story. If a writer reads solely to judge and understand, they will probably neglect their intuition regarding a piece. While ignoring intuition is reasonable while reading as a reader, I believe that writers who do the same will lose a holistic understanding of the work, and how they personally relate to the work.
Writers can learn a lot when not intellectually judging a work: some emotional judgment allows a writer to decide if they like a piece, and if the piece speaks to them personally. By feeling whether a piece of writing speaks to the heart in its style, voice, or themes, writers can unconsciously realize their own desires and fears. Later, in post-reading analysis, writers can intellectually realize the work’s impact on their emotions and opinions, and consciously decide whether they enjoyed the work’s style, and whether the work’s style effectively supported the theme. Then, through a sort of literary osmosis, they develop a better understanding what they want to express and how they want to express it in their own writing. Thus, their writing will improve because it will be informed by better understanding of the writer’s inner self, and by an emotionally and creatively-driven understanding and love of inspiring works. This is far more authentic than an intellectually deciding what constitutes good literature and what should function as a literary muse.
Of course, I do not advocate that writers ought to abandon intellectual studies of past literary works—it is important for writers to study the structure and components of masters’ stories to try to apply past knowledge to their own work. But at the same time, failing to read for pleasure may stop a writer from being able to emotionally judge a piece’s value to them personally, as they may be too focused on the work’s supposed value to the whole world.
Perhaps writers ought to first read for pleasure, to feed their creative self and determine whether it is worth rereading a work and consider adopting elements of its style. Then, if and only if the work speaks to the heart of the writer, the writer can return to the story to analyze how the author constructed their personal truth.