Reading

Approaches to reading

There are different ways of thinking and talking about reading. On this page we look at two of these: the first focuses on the relationship between the reader and the words that are on the page or that are spoken, and the second considers how everything that surrounds those words can shape our responses to them.

How we come to books

One approach is to think about how works of literature ‘call’ to us and tell our stories (or not). How are our identities supported, echoed, or confirmed in what we read and in the process of reading? Could reading be a way of understanding and clarifying our own thinking? Does it give us a ‘take’ on the movement of our imagination?

In the following clips, Elleke Boehmer talks about these questions. In the first video, she highlights the importance of reading our own stories, and discusses how, for many readers, their stories are not the ones represented in mainstream books. She then introduces the project’s approach of reading ‘beyond code’.

In the next clip, Boehmer talks about literary writing as an act of communication and reading as an engaged activity.

As she describes:

The writers generate the text, but we as readers put life into the text, in the same way as a musician enlivens a score for music, or actors do with a play script.

Other thinkers have different ways of describing what happens to us when we read. On our ‘Reading and reception’ page we outline their responses. And on ‘Identifying with literature’, we explore in greater detail how readers find ways of identifying with books that don’t immediately relate to their experience.

How books come to us

Another approach to reading is to think about how literature makes its way to us through different channels, such as publishers and booksellers who market and present books to us in particular ways. How are our experiences of reading shaped by things like book covers, blurbs, and even what shelf a book is placed on in a bookstore?

Publishers and book covers

In this video, Erica Lombard talks about how publishers in Britain market Black and Asian British writing to readers by using conventions that make these books seem ‘other’ or exotic. For example, have you ever noticed that the covers of books by Asian British writers have a stock colour palette of pink, yellow, orange, and red? How might that process influence British readers’ experiences of specific books?

Contexts of production

In the following clip, Gail Low gives further insights into the ways that our reading is shaped by the contexts in which literature is produced. Why are some books published and others not? Low looks at how educational publishing (e.g. textbooks and novels destined to be school set-works) has influenced the development of literature in the past sixty years. She also asks whether some writers and books are more marketable because of how they help readers to enter and learn about unfamiliar (or ‘exotic’) worlds.

To learn more about how writers and readers respond to the framing of certain kinds of literature as ‘other’, visit the ‘Identifying with literature’ page.

Questions:

  Can you judge a book by its cover? Are there other factors, such as blurbs, pictures or even the fonts, that draw you to or repel you from particular books?
  Does the identity of the author matter to you when you choose a book?
  Do you find some books harder to get into than others? Why do you think this is?

Cite this: “Approaches to reading.” Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds, 2017, https://writersmakeworlds.com/on-reading/approaches-to-reading/. Accessed 22 October 2017.


More on reading

Reading and reception
Reading and identification Identifying with literature
Performance and reading