Read How You Read


We read every day. But have you ever thought about how you read and what happens when you are reading?

In Dead Poets Society, boys were asked to gather around in playground and read their dreams of life aloud; In The Reader, the love between Michael and Hanna was built by the rhythm and rhyme of reading; In The Hours, Laura Brown’s reading Mrs. Dalloway, quietly but powerfully, turned her peaceful life upside down.

Reading is a cognitive process from decoding to recoding. Be it in the form of texts or images, whatever you see are ciphers of the author’s ideas. Throughout reading, you decode the author’s idea, interpret it and digest it in your own ways. You and your friends may hold different opinions toward the same content, because you have different cultural backgrounds, which may play a role in recoding. That’s why there are a thousand Hamlets in a thousand people’s eyes.

Reading is also a process of communication that can be both internal and external. When reading, you communicate with yourself. You look inside your mind and try to connect the new information you get by reading with the existent knowledge. Sometimes, perhaps in a class discussion, when asked to read aloud, you are sharing ideas with others. By observing your facial expression and listening to your pitch, the audience has chance to read your understanding or emotion.

Jean-Francois de Troy (1679-1752) The Reading from Moliere (1750?)

In 18th century, when books were scarce, reading was regarded as an honorable and holy behavior. The nobles, who usually had a domestic library with sumptuous furniture and delicate decoration in their homes, performed their readings among circles of friends and families. The passion for reading aloud, in my opinion, showed the respect for and focus on the act of reading, since every detail of the dialogue and plot is necessary for a “performative reading”.

Thanks to Gutenberg whose invention of printing press contributed to the democratization of reading. For hundreds of years, we have been used to reading printed books. Either silently or aloud, we acquire knowledge from printed books and enjoyed the limitless imagination when immersing in the aroma of ink and texture of pages.

Now, with e-book’s sales surpassing their printed counterparts, our habit of reading is changing. It is an information explosion era, and also, a speed-read era. To what extent can you indulge yourself in reading an e-book? Bill Gates, who is thought of as a pioneer of digital world, confessed that he prefers printed paper for extensive reading:

“Reading off the screen is still inferior to reading off of paper. Even, I, who have these expensive screens and fancy myself as a pioneer of this Web Lifestyle, when it comes to something over about four or five pages, I print it out and I like to have it to carry around with me and annotate.”

Indeed, with the Internet and digital devices, we can benefit from faster searching that can facilitate and accelerate our life; however, deeply and comprehensively reading should not be ignored or replaced by speed reading, since we cannot gain what we can get from serious reading from reading on screen.

Therefore, next time, when you read something, try to invoke the sense of selflessness. It is beautiful.

Shu Hu

With a BA degree of Sichuan University in Editing & Publishing, Shu is a second-year graduate member of CCT community. She is the first Chinese blogger of gnovis, of which she is really proud. For the academic interests here in CCT, blogs focusing on new media study and cultural comparison between countries may be unfolded by Shu. Also, she enjoys dancing, drama, and whatever forms of art.