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Old 05-18-2005, 08:59 AM   #42
A Mere Boggart
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Join Date: Mar 2004
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Lalwendė is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.Lalwendė is battling Black Riders on Weathertop.
Here is what I think it boils down to. There are two distinct ways of reading. The first is to read for pleasure, the second is to read for purpose. Many of us read for purpose. This would include anyone who regularly reads through lengthy business documents to look for key points, journalists who carry out research in order to file a report, A Level students who have copies of Jane Eyre liberally inscribed with notes, teachers who scour essays and texts looking for relevant and coherently argued opinions. If we read for purpose often enough then it can easily become habit, because we may have been trained to do this, and we may also do this often enough that it becomes normal to us. Even when we sit down to read for pleasure then we can find ourselves mentally reaching for a pencil to make a note in the margin.

How many A Level students bemoan the fact that they are having to study 'boring' books? Rather than the books themselves being boring, the problem lies in that they are required to anayse the books without first having had the simple pleasure of reading them. A case in point is an A Level class I once taught part way through their course. They had been studying Chaucer and all pronounced it to be boring, which surprised me as when I had studied it for A Level everyone had enjoyed it. When I studied Chaucer our teacher had first made us listen to the text being read aloud, and then we had read it right the way through, making few if any notes. However this class had not had that pleasure; instead they had opened the book and had straight away begun making in depth notes with every few lines they read. This is the difference between reading for pleasure and reading for purpose.

If we go to a book with purpose in the forefront of our minds then we will approach it in that businesslike manner, as something to be dealt with, not merely to be enjoyed. If we go to a book purely with pleasure in mind then we are more likely to accept what is contained therein, as heightened critical faculties are not required for having fun. Obviously, many of us will read a book with pleasure in mind despite us being, in our professional capacities, purpose seekers. But how easy is it to shake off that way of reading which requires us to seek out key points and phrases which will make our arguments more coherent?

I don't say that this is any fault of the reader who generally reads with a professional purpose, nor are they reading it incorrectly. This is just how many people do read. It is a different way of reading, but a way which necessarily means we are not able to immerse ourselves fully in the alternate reality of what we are reading (and alternate reality would include a novel about urban London as much as one about Middle Earth).

Absolutely no author of novels or poetry writes with the professional reader in mind, beyond possibly making sure it will appeal to the publisher. The writer is wholly concerned with the creative endeavour at hand, and is indeed omnipotent in the world they have created. Tolkien is the creator of Eru, and what Tolkien says must happen in Arda, happens. It is his world, and we are invited to visit, but not to alter it. There are things I do not like in Middle Earth, but that is me projecting my own feelings, my personal critical eye, onto those occurrences. I cannot do anything about them. I can talk about them, and how I think they are wrong, but it does not bring me any closer to what the author thought, in fact it takes me further away, so I must put aside my purposeful mind and read with pleasure, or else change the channel and go elsewhere.
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