Friday, April 6, 2012

Just the words or beyond the words?

I have never been good at getting the "meaning" behind the writing.  This became crystal clear to me in my freshmen comp class when we had to read some random story and then write a little paper on some question provided by the professor.  I read the story, then the question "discuss the importance of the characters' hats".  My first thought?  "The characters were wearing hats?"  It was a long day that day (and I'm sure a very bad paper). 

The fact is that I read the words and I follow the plot.  I have an extremely hard time with the "book club type questions" often found in the backs of books since Oprah started touting her picks and book clubs in general.  I can also track some between the lines activity - hints left by the author in a mystery, for instance, or what a character might be saying without words.  But the deeper meaning?  Not usually apparent to me.

I have written poetry in my life.  And I get that the words and the way I put them together can evoke a feeling or a picture in my mind beyond the words. I suspect those images are probably unique to my brain, when I read my writing.  I do not have the same reaction when I read poetry or prose by others, at least most of the time.  Is that typical?  I don't know.  At least I get the idea, even if I can't usually sense the image myself. 

These thoughts all came today as a reaction to my daily calendar "Seize the Day" reading from yesterday, which says: 

"Sense the pulse and song of the day as it unfolds and creates the music in your heart." -RP-

Logically, I read the words and sense that the "image" meant to be conveyed is that each day is unique and you should pay attention, but the poetic image I'm sure the author intended is lost on me entirely.  And without that sense of image, I tend to read the words and discard them.  And it seems that even as I realize this, and slow down to read and imagine the intended image, the phrase is still nothing to me.  I can't seem to create the image if it isn't there to start with...what do you make of that? 


  1. In high school, I became very aware that reading wasn't all fun and taking things at face value, when a test question was "what does the yellow tractor represent?", a farm machine? I never have forgotten that question or the fact that reading the short story again didn't help me at all!

    1. Tnank you Michelle! I knew I couldn't possibly be the only one. I have a small book club with 5 or 6 good friends, and in the five or ten minutes we spend actually discussing the book in question, it is very obvious that everyone reads and processes the experience (and the words) so differently! Same idea as discussion of who you would cast as a character in your favorite book - the wildly different answers you get is directly related to how those words drew a picture in your head I guess.

  2. We really are sisters. I have always maintained that I want a good story. Period. Sometimes the good story touches me in some emotional way but analysis takes away from the reading. I hated it in high school when you had to make all those notes and connect all those images to something bigger. Just let me read the friggin' book. Now, I can do that. If a book seems to be "deep" and I am not getting the imagery, then I move on. An example that springs immediately to mind is Cold Mountain. EVERYONE touted this as an amazing book. I was given it as a birthday present and I tried. I did. But it didn't grab me. Too slow, too descriptive, not enough story for me. and, truth be told, I thought I was just plain stupid. But that was some years ago. Now? Now I read what works for me.
    and poetry? Yes, I can put words down that flop out of my own head and I might like them very much but even I don't understand them. And , sadly, that happens all too often when I read poetry and the images just aren't there for me.
    I think I'll go paint now.

  3. Most of the time I just really enjoy the words as they are, yet feel a little behind the ball that I don't want to make more of them...but then figure I can leave well enough alone! Who am I to say what somebody else meant? (at least that is what I tell myself)

  4. It's funny to me to read this at exactly the moment I am struggling through a book which has metaphorical/mythological stories interspersed through the straight narration of events in the book. At the end of each of these passages, I am left wondering what the point was--even when I get what the author was trying to do, I'm still thinking why be so vague about it?


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