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Monday, January 24, 2011

How Reading Can Change the World

OK, we've already established that reading is awesome, but imagine my surprise when I went to the Writer's Digest Conference and the most inspiring talk of all was not actually about writing.  It was about reading.

Richard Nash, who gave the lunch keynote speech on Saturday, gave a fascinating talk about how writers have to be readers, how reading and writing are the opposite sides of the same interaction.  All I have to say is: OMG did he read my mind?  This is exactly the sort of stuff I've been obsessing over for the last few weeks.  In fact, after hearing Richard Nash speak, I am completely convinced that reading can, in fact, change the world.

A few weeks ago, I posed the following statements for discussion.
Writing is the ultimate form of manipulation.
Reading is the supreme act of defiance.
Some of you got the writing part of the equation right away.  When we write, we can control the words and how we express them to guide the reader in whatever direction we choose.  Writing--if you really think about it--is no more than a few inky scribbles on a page.  Lines and dots.  But if we're strategic in how we use those lines and dots, we can actually put ideas into our reader's head.  We can direct and manipulate what our reader imagines and how our reader responds.  Richard Nash had a great analogy for this concept in his keynote: "Our words are hours that we can take up inside someone's head."

I don't know about you, but I think that's a powerful thing (and not a privilege to be taken lightly).

But what about the reading part?  How can reading be an act of defiance?  I addressed this when I talked about types of readers last week.  Some people might read to get the information or to figure what the author's trying to say, and that's fine.  But the moment you realize that everything the writer's doing with his words is essentially an act of manipulation--a way of taking up real estate inside your brain--then you can start reading like a revolutionary.  All it takes is awareness, knowing that the writer's doing some slight of hand tricks and is trying to direct your mind this way or that.  Once you're aware of this, you can step back and decide if you actually want to be directed.  And once you do that, you've become a rebel.  You're fighting the machine.  You're Reading.

And how, exactly, can Reading change the world?  That's easy.  One of the biggest problems I see with the world is that everyone out there is trying to be a writer.  Everyone's got an agenda; they're trying to use their words and take up mental real estate and get people to listen to what they have to say.  The problem is, very few people out there put effort into Reading-with-a-capital-R.

I totally get why that happens, though.  Reading like that can be exhausting, sort of like watching a magic show and constantly trying to figure out how the magician pulled off the last trick. Our world is so saturated with information that it would be impossible to read like a revolutionary all the time.  We'd all lose our minds.  The trouble is, a lot of people have stopped Reading all together.  They just accept the information they see at face value and move on to the next thing.  I call this voluntary illiteracy.

In the end, Nash's speech came down to one important point: "Writing and reading are behaviors.  Most people do both."  I agree completely and would add only one thing:  To change the world, we need to do both but do them responsibly.

I thank you all for the privilege of letting me take up a small slice of your mental real estate.  Now go out there and do something amazing with your words.

8 comments:

Richard Nash said...

Thought you might like this ad, from an Italian publisher and bookstore chain. http://adsoftheworld.com/media/print/feltrinelli_publisher_reading_means_resisting

gabi said...

Richard - That ad is awesome! It's exactly what I'm talking about. Thank you so much for linking and for giving such a fantastic talk. So inspiring!

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

This is brilliant! I never thought of it that way, but how interesting. I'm reading a lot of stuff right now, and I'm going to be reading a bit differently after thinking about this. :)

Caroline Starr Rose said...

So agree. Reading is everything -- a privilege, a window, a lesson, a gift, a companion, a teacher, a challenge...

KarenG said...

I can't understand writers who don't read. Do not get that at all. The more serious we are about our craft the more we should be reading!

gabi said...

Great comments and I'm so glad to hear that I'm not the only person crazy enough to believe in the power of reading!

D. P. King said...

Great post. Indeed, I get more out of reading than I do writing sometimes. Too bad I'm a writer that's too busy to read.

Btw - I gave you an award on my blog! Come and claim it :)

Kari Marie said...

Gulp. Wow. Now I'm feeling a bit...er, stressed. It's a cool idea and one I totally agree with.

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