Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why Do We Read?

Today’s question on Booking Through Thursday is a bit of a mammoth one and one I don’t know quite how to answer, so as usual I will probably go off at quite a tangent so apologies if so. The question is “My husband is not an avid reader, and he used to get very frustrated in college when teachers would insist discussing symbolism in a literary work when there didn’t seem to him to be any. He felt that writers often just wrote the story for the story’s sake and other people read symbolism into it. It does seem like modern fiction just “tells the story” without much symbolism. Is symbolism an older literary device, like excessive description, that is not used much any more? Do you think there was as much symbolism as English teachers seemed to think? What are some examples of symbolism from your reading?” Now for me this sounds very like a mix of a bookish problem page and an English literature A-level question and as I have been discussing on and off on my blog of late my late school years almost put me off books and reading for life. I can’t blame the teachers (my English teaching mother would kill me) it’s their job, but it needs to be done carefully as I was severely put off books almost for good.

I didn’t feel that my English teachers particularly made me seek symbolism; I think they made me try and look at books in a different way but sadly to a point that makes you over analyse books. I do think that the curriculum killed all Shakespeare it touched and many other classics such as A Room With A View, through endless analysis and over egging of the literary pudding. it made it an effort, where was the fun in that?

I think all books have different symbolic references to different people, characters might symbolise people you know or issues that are going on in society, the world, you name it. Each and every individual will take something completely different away from a book. From reading The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood recently I didn’t feel any review I did could do the book justice in terms of all it symbolised and discussed and yet there are books I read that are simply a story. That I think is the objective of every author, to tell a good tale and take you on a journey, the rest of the work I think should be done by the reader taking as much or little out of it as possible or as they want, reading shouldn’t be a chore or a bore.

English teachers taught me how to read books differently I suppose, how to look for hidden messages and sides to the story you might not initially see and reading The Blind Assassin I wanted to thank them for teaching me that, to a degree. They did somewhat take the enjoyment out of reading, making it too much of an exercise and less of an enjoyment. This all made me think... why do we read? The latter of the two is particularly is the reason that I read the others are escapism, relaxation plus learning about things or people that interest me or cultures and events I might not know about without certain wonderful books. Maybe that’s not the academic way to read a book; it’s certainly the most fun way. What about you, why do you read? Do you need symbolism or just wonderful words that make you escape and make you think while relaxing as hours while away?

Oh P.S loving the new/re-released after 20+ years Du Maurier (see below) but am limiting myself to a short story a day to make the delight last!

10 comments:

Janet said...

I agree that symbolism is alive and well, and reading with awareness is a good thing, but over-analysis can really kill the joy.

Love the idea of the "over egging of the literary pudding." It's even symbolic. :-)

Sandy Nawrot said...

I love symbolism when it hits me in the face. I'm not very good at finding it when its hidden however. I was not well-schooled in these types of things, and I feel a little cheated. When I read classics today, I usually find something online that helps me figure things out.

farmlanebooks said...

I'm not a big fan of analysing books. I read for pleasure, and so most of the time I don't notice the symbolism in books.

Sometimes I read study guides after having read the book, and I am often shocked by the things I miss, but most of the time I think study guides are full of nonsense that the author didn't intend.

CoversGirl said...

"Over egging of the literary pudding" reminded me of a social science teacher who likened her subject to intangible fruitcake (and now I'm the one going off on a tangent.)

Reading some of these responses has left me feeling sadly ill-educated. Reviewing has affected the way I read far more than English classes ever did; and even that hasn't raised me to any great heights intellectual effort. Occasionally I feel vaguely guilty for failing to get as much as I should out of some venerated book, but I read for love of reading, not love of analysing. And really, contemplating symbolism would take up too much time that could be spent starting the next book.

Jess said...

I definitely read as an escape, but now that I have a blog, I find myself trying to find the deeper meaning or theme of some of the books I read.

candyschultz said...

99.99% of my fiction reading is for enjoyment. I read tons of non-fiction and when I turn to a novel I want to be entertained for the most part. I did have many, many literature classes in college and I found they helped most with understanding poetry and recognizing classical allusions in fiction. In the U.S. we have a very poor educational system and most people wouldn't know an allusion if it bit them. That said I did have a professor for a Shakespeare class who actually told us he wanted all his words parroted back to him on exams. He didn't care if we learned anything just that we remembered his words. It was my last semester or I would have walked out.

claire said...

I read fiction mostly for enjoyment. To relax and get away, whilst unconsciously learning.

mattviews said...

I think only careful, meticulous readers could read into these symbols. In most cases, readers would understand the story without fully grabbing the symbols, but the level of appreciation would be compromised. Toni Morrison would be the prime example. Not all books are endowed with layers of meaning and implications, but symbolism can be a great device to describe things that are very intangible, like death. Symbols can also be very subjective entities. Sometimes I cannot read into any symbols in a book just simply because I lack the personal experience that would put me in tune to the author's meaning.

Book Psmith said...

Great question and an even better answer.

I have had to reteach myself to read just for the love and joy of reading after college. I completely over-analyzed everything I read for so long and still sometimes do. Reading children's books as well as fun and funny books has so helped me recapture the enchantment I used to experience as a child and teenager. Oddly, the classics have helped in this area too. It has been a reading rebirth of sorts and I am so grateful for it because I could feel my love of reading slipping away.

I absolutely love your excitement about The Breaking Point. You have more self-restraint than I...I try but I usually devour books I fall in love with.

Savidge Reads said...

I might have to trademark the saying "over egging the literary pudding" I think, thank you all very much for your comments very kind. I think what I was trying to say (but in a very long way) was that I like symbolism, its not the be all and end all though and I dont think people should beat themselves up over it!