There are different ways of reading. I don't mean whether you do it on the bus or curled up in bed, or whether you start on the last page before flicking to the first, or reading a whole novel in one big chunk. I mean having a different mindset.
I recently discovered that I can have a split personality when I read. The book involved was The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell. It was chosen (pre-lockdown) as a book for discussion with several friends to keep our brains active. Knowing that we were going to talk about it, and wanting to have more to say than 'I liked/didn't like it' encouraged me to give more thought to it. I ended up approaching it not only as a reader wanting to plunge into a different world for a while, but as a writer keen to understand the author's techniques and how she achieved her effects, and as an academic attempting to analyse its literary themes, influences and place in the literary canon.
All are enjoyable in their own way, but they don't go particularly well together. I would have done better, I think, to read the novel initially for fun, a second time for style, and a third for the literary analysis. Perhaps the fact that I didn't, shows that it didn't engage me enough to enjoy it fully as a reader.
Thinking as an academic, I don't believe the reader is supposed to lose themselves in this story, and the linguistic techniques that O'Farrell employs work like those of anti-illusion theatre, to remind you that you are reading a fiction. I haven't decided why, beyond showing that while we try to understand lives as narratives with one thing leading to another, that's only something we can impose in retrospect, and isn't how events are actually experienced. My theory requires more thought, and might turn out to be pretentious nonsense.
The part I enjoyed most was looking at the writing/linguistic techniques and whether they might enhance my own writing, not by copying them, but by seeing other possibilities. It's given me evidence, if I needed it, of why writers are told to read as much as they can.
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