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booking through thursday: what is reading, fundamentally?

What is reading, anyway? Novels, comics, graphic novels, manga, e-books, audiobooks — which of these is reading these days? Are they all reading? Only some of them? What are your personal qualifications for something to be “reading” — why? If something isn’t reading, why not? Does it matter? Does it impact your desire to sample a source if you find out a premise you liked the sound of is in a format you don’t consider to be reading? Share your personal definition of reading, and how you came to have that stance.

Fundamentally, reading is the act of seeing words and understanding their meaning. Deriving concepts from otherwise meaningless symbols. I learned to do this when I was five and I would say most children learn about the same time. In a wider sense, when I say that I am reading, I am usually reading a book. When you say you like to read, you don’t mean that you like the act of reading, interpreting symbols, but that you enjoy reading about something, like in a book or the newspaper. If you say you like to read, you generally don’t mean that you enjoy reading the sides of cereal boxes, although it is technically reading and we all do it. I don’t really consider listening to an audiobook “reading”, and if I had “read” a book in that format I’d probably say so when talking about it. I still think it’s valuable to do so, though, and if that’s the way you like to hear stories I’m all for it, it just isn’t actually reading.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that fundamentally reading is looking at words and understanding them. In a narrower sense, reading is understanding lots of those words in the context of a story or some wider meaning, like a news article. We all read a lot on the internet, but I wouldn’t consider someone who has never by choice cracked open a book a reader. Perhaps I would consider someone who reads a lot of magazines or newspapers one, but not someone who just reads out of necessity and not for pleasure. Would I consider someone who only listens to audiobooks a reader? Probably not, unless they were also a reader of books and circumstances forced them to listen only, such as eye problems.

These distinctions don’t matter too much in the great scheme of things, though – I wish everyone loved reading as much as I do, and whatever way you do it, I’m glad that you do!

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1 comment to booking through thursday: what is reading, fundamentally?

  • My response to this week’s question was very similar. I did not go into audio books because I have mixed feelings about them. I tend to use the word “listen” when referring to them as opposed to “reading” them.