Reading for Personal Development
A large number of educated people declare that they “don’t read.” This isn’t exactly true, since they do read a lot about their specific fields of activity. I guess that what is left out from their statement is the word “fiction.” Thus, these non-fiction readers seem to be tacitly acknowledging a void in their daily practices.
I have often been told that reading with no practical goal in mind proves a waste of time, that it’s a passive manner of entertainment suited only to those who don’t feel the need to constantly meet and overcome challenges, and that the “imaginary worlds” of fiction can be effectively enjoyed by watching a movie, which takes less time and doesn’t require building mental pictures of the content.
As a matter of fact, reading isn’t a passive but an extremely demanding interactive process. It “involves mental activity, is embedded in other communication abilities, and converts graphic stimuli into meaning.” Moreover, fiction works pose very real challenges. You need to pierce through the level of the enunciated (the actual words used and their arrangement in sentences) to reach the level of enunciation (to put it simply, what lies behind the words; what the author conveys even when she’s not aware of actually having meant what seems patent to you.) Between-the-lines reading is a fascinating exercise in detection, association, comparison, identification, debate, and much more.
Reading fiction is a manner of entertainment. We pick up a book to enter other worlds, to peep into the lives of characters that acquire human status through authors’ masterful ability, to journey into unknown territories... Still, when we read great works, we cannot stay outside. The reader is drawn into the plot, empathizes with some characters, hates others, mentally argues with or supports the writer’s views and, most importantly, establishes connections between content, character behavior, and her own past or present circumstances. In other words, fruitful reading entails a reflexive attitude on the part of the reader.
Active reading, the only way to really profit from books, is reflected in notes pencilled on the margins, highlighted phrases or passages, question and exclamation marks, crosses, and the like. Nothing can be more wrong than to think that a book is a “valuable”, a “sacred” object that must be preserved intact. Books call for intervention, in the same way as some forms of contemporary visual art appropriate an object and make a new imprint on it, thus turning it into a unique object, for every intervention is exclusive and individual. The key, indeed, is appropriation. Your copy, your interaction with the story, your conclusions. Books have an ending, but are not truly finished until readers reinterpret and actualize them.
There are books and books, so how do we know which are great works? Well, there’s no way of telling if the book is relatively recent, because the measure of a great work is time. Books that were written centuries ago and are still read have accomplished their destiny of evergreens for the simple reason that the issues they discuss are so profoundly human that we feel they inform the present. Your present, what may puzzle you about it, is explained and discussed in great works. Thus, you can learn much from books, not only about places you will never visit or people you will never meet, but about yourself for, in some way, those places and people duplicate your reality.
You might argue that the offer is so overwhelming that, feeling at a loss to choose, you opt to spend your time otherwise engaged. You are right about the first part and wrong about the second. It is true that the “book population” in every possible format, including electronic and audio proposals, is growing exponentially. Still, reading is not a way of spending time but of using time profitably. You are a practical person. What could be more practical than to expand your knowledge without attending a regular, scheduled course? Can you possibly imagine the cost of private tuition with a great writer, at your own place, assuming the writer is alive and willing to humor you?
I would like to tell you about my own experience in regard to reading. To begin with, I was born in a home where you kept tripping over books. My parents never let a day go by without reading me a story, and at age four I grew impatient to begin reading by myself, so they indulged me by teaching me the skill rather early for the customs of the time. From then on, I never stopped. As a child and a young teenager, I randomly devoured books without rhyme or reason. My mother would warn me against reading this or that book because it lay beyond my comprehension. Needless to say, the minute she left home I made for the “forbidden” book. Although later, more mature rereadings proved her right, I felt that I “understood.” And I did, at the surface, more primary layer of the material. In other words, the exercise of reading never left me empty handed.
My studies in literature organized my approach to books, but that doesn’t mean that you need special training to read. Leave that to specialists; you only need to open up to the book of your choice.
I began to write very young, published intermittently for many years, and have been making up for lost time since 2005. On the basis of my readings and my writing, I have selected a number of books that will no doubt grip you. In the coming chapters you will find information about them as well as tools to read reflexively. You will need a copy of the book discussed, a pen or pencil, the worksheets at the end of each section and, if you wish, a notebook to produce your own “book about the books.”
Enjoy the journey you’re about to start.
An attractive bonus to the ideas proposed in all three books is the possibility of personal contact with the author through email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Marta Merajver-Kurlat is an Argentine novelist, translator, essayist, and biographer. Her attraction to the ways in which mankind tells its own history encouraged her to undertake studies in myth, language, literature, psychology and psychoanalysis. Accordingly, her novels Just Toss the Ashes and Los gloriosos sesenta y después delve into intriguing aspects of human nature. A lecturer in psychoanalytic associations of her country, she first took up the challenge of addressing non-specialists in Living with Stress, released by Jorge Pinto Books in mid-2009.