I’ve come to believe that the act of reading is an extremely personal act.
Which is fascinating.
After all, the process is fairly straightforward. Step one: Focus eyes on printed words. Step two: Decode words, either silently or aloud. Step three: Understand words.
And yet, consider the vast multitude of variables here; say, for example, you and I decided to read the same two-page text on, say, the topic of homework. Likely, we might begin similarly, but not necessarily. I might cast about for a stack of post-its and a pen, while you might just grab a pencil. Or, you might do neither of those things. Let’s move to the reading, the actual decoding part. Immediately, I would venture to guess, a meaning-making process would begin in both of our minds. I’m the kind of reader who struggles to read without confirmation bias; while you might be just reading to learn what the text is teaching; nope, no need to write anything down or gather evidence for a position for you– perhaps. To really hang onto information, I must write something down. Whereas you, you might not need to write anything down, or maybe you might struggle to care enough about learning the information to want to bother with all that.
Take my father recently. Picture this: He sips his Double Americano, seated in the “Stomping Grounds” coffee shop the other day. He leans over and pulls a book from his soft briefcase. He sees me watching him. “I’m reading this a third time,” he matter-of-factly informs me with his trademark serious tone. Here’s what the first few pages of his book look like (he is a lifetime theological scholar):
That’s how he reads. Always has. The annotations scrawled around the edges of each page resemble the precision of horned owl tracks after an ink-soaking.
Sitting across my father and pondering this sight, I recalled a question my mother-in-law asked me one time: “Isn’t comprehension just reading the words and understanding them?” she asked. Well, yes. But I think about things like, what kind of background knowledge do we interface with while reading? What kind of experiences come to bear on our meaning-making process? What ideas do we grow as we read? What ideas is he growing?
My father never got a B in college. Straight A’s. Eight uninterrupted years. Which is phenomenal. His reading process might fascinate me more than anyone’s.