The act of reading is as equally hard to define as ‘books’.
Reading may initially start as an isolated, solitary activity, but can become a collaborative or community action when we engage with others about written works. Reading can be a casual activity for entertainment, or it can be an act of personal growth and learning, or it can have a clear goal such as research and discovery.
Identifying the influence that reading has on the existence of a written piece is important in understanding the complexity of written works. Reading is essentially the reception of a written piece. This means that as many ways as a piece can be read, there are just as many ways that a piece can exist. To one reader the piece will be one thing and to another reader the piece can be something else entirely, depending on the context, experiences, mindset and even education of each reader.
“We can think of reading as a cultural moment,” Roger says. “There are particular moments when reading happens and it happens for particular reasons. When we read, for whatever reason, we hold a material object, but on that object are words that need to be decoded. It’s the act of decoding that has an impact on a reader. And however they decode is unique to that reader, specifically, so the resulting impact is unique to that reader, as well.”
Reading is an act unique to humanity, and it is unique to each human. It can’t be simply defined. Although we can see someone reading and identify their action as ‘reading’, we can’t easily identify how they are reading or why they are reading or what their version of reading is compared to our own. Just as a book can contain a thousand different things, it can be read a thousand different ways, with a thousand different impacts.
Although reading seems like a simple thing — something that we teach to children and that we do every day — a deeper look with a new perspective shows that it is not as simple as we may think. “When these acts become complicated the more that we think about them, they become worthy of study,” Roger says.
“Reading is a human act and it helps us to know more about ourselves and about each other when we break it down, ask questions, and seek answers that may be different to our own. Studying literature, writing, reading and publishing is studying humanity.”
JCU Associate Professor Roger Osborne
The written word, whether it’s in the form of genre books, textbooks, history books, or catalogues, or any other form of record, is intertwined with human history. Even through oral retellings, we remember our history and our rich humanity through what we choose to keep and pass on. When we approach reading with this in mind, we learn more about ourselves and others.
“I had a student once who said ‘this is making me really uncomfortable’ as we were learning about the differences in reading,” Roger says. “He was being asked to look at books in a completely new way. He was being asked to consider how a book or a story will always contain the same words, but can also be read differently each time it is read.”
If you’re exploring new ways of reading, and it’s making you uncomfortable, that probably means you’re doing it right. That means you’re growing.