Wednesday, June 08, 2016


"We need feedback to know we are being heard. Novels do this in a very special way, by allowing us to try on stories, like clothes, to see if they are "us," if they "feel right."

When you read a story, you supply the pictures, the sound effects, the smells, the colours and the run a personal movie to bring the words to life--you are the director, the cameraperson, the sound effects crew, the casting agent and the editor.
This is how you can become so intimate with the story...the story becomes the framework for you to bring into play material that you need to recall, actively, in order to make sense of what you read...according to your mental need.

Feelings are very hard to describe in language  because through evolution we developed language after we developed feelings. Language seems best for describing the world outside ourselves and is less suited for describing feelings. Psychotherapy is largely directed at penetrating the screen or armour of rationalization and has the goal of uncovering feelings associated with painful memory.

Emotion originates in pre-language centers of the brain and influences our behaviour without the benefit of language, the most important tool human beings possess for producing consciousness. To get from the feeling-producing parts of the brain into consciousness, knowing, reporting, organizing parts of the brain--where information is labelled, recognized, sorted and filed--human beings use language.

What we think and feel about what we read may or may not affect our behaviour, though it very often affects our perception, which in turn affects our behaviour pervasively. The words of the story are a coded signal requiring decoding. We activate the code, which in turn activates a recall/recognition process in our brains. We feedback information to and from the literature in a looping pattern. We use information from the past to alter our behaviour in the future in order to improve our chances of survival. Stories are the best of our heritage, the gift of minds that stay alive in us and help us to survive.

We find in our reading what we need at a particular time. We focus our attention on the things that seem important to us where we are in our own development. This does not always go reliably by age either. We might be a very enlightened fifteen or a very sheltered twenty-five.
The subject matter depends, of course, on the reader and the situation; yet there is no need to be hypersensitive or nervous about choosing books.

In all the cases cited (in READ FOR YOUR LIFE) one criterion of book selection was that the giver had read the book, had enjoyed it and wanted to share it. As readers we automatically take what we need and reject what is too uncomfortable. It takes work (the therapeutic in bibliotherapy) to face the difficult aspects in order to stimulate the healing process.

Fiction was at one time considered to be not serious enough--too corrupting, distracting, enticing--to be encouraged. Churches were against it. When universities made literature part of the curriculum, they had to make it serious to justify inclusion. They had to make it complicated, to create an expertise of reading and understanding specific to classical works. It was not meant to be fun. Works were selected by authorities and teachers had the "right" interpretations.

The result has been that many people grow up believing that reading is hard work and is avoided outside of the classroom. Fortunately, there is a movement in academia known as reader-response. The theory goes like this: The text is a code, a kind of message-in-waiting, a potential experience. To activate it requires reading. The reader activates the story or poem by using his or her own personal experience and language to interpret the thing read.
This means that each reader has a unique reading of the story, no matter how slightly it differs from every other reading. There is no one, absolute, fixed meaning to the story.

(Some quotes are consolidated and/or partially paraphrased)