Readers Wanted

Many of my friends are changing. They are reading less and watching (or binging) series on Netflix, Amazon or similar services more. I don’t altogether like it. It is making my world a bit less interesting.

First of all, I feel a bit of pressure to watch these series in order to maintain cultural touchstones. After I watch a series, they strike me almost like mindlessly eating a bag of potato chips. I enjoy it immensely at the time, but feel a little sick afterward. Now, that’s an overstatement. I don’t actually feel sick after watching a series (normally). What really bothers me is how much less interesting my discussions are with friends about these series versus discussing a book.

Why do I find the discussion less rich? Maybe it has something do with that old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Maybe through the use of pictures, actually moving pictures, the viewer inserts less of herself into her perception of the story.

I’ll illustrate this with a passage from the The Sommieres Sun.

Reflect on this passage just a bit. We’ll come back to it.

Think about it like art. I find paintings that look almost like photographs less interesting than paintings that deploy a degree of abstraction. With a degree of abstraction, the viewer projects a bit of themselves into interpreting the subject.

Compare looking at this painting with looking at a photograph of a woman and a glass vase.

Chicago 1927 ©CE Hunt, 1994

Just reflect on the vase.

Study of Chicago 1927 ©CE Hunt, 1994

Again, think of how much different a discussion would be with a friend concerning this painting versus a photograph. Not to say photography can’t be abstract or interpreted as well. I do love photography, but you get the point.

That is the beauty of reading and books, writers are never able to completely describe a scene. The reader always has to robustly use his imagination to supplement the words on the page.

In a sense, the reader forms a partnership with the writer to visualize what is happening. As a result, when you discuss a book with a friend, your perception will be different than theirs. You are comparing your interpretations versus literal scenes that a video series explicitly prepared for your consumption.

When you discuss a book with a friend, you are in a sense, discussing a bit of yourself with them. Your experiences, your imagination, colored and helped shape your perception of what happened. That’s generally less true when you discuss video productions.

Okay, to illustrate, think about what you envisioned from the above passage at the start of this post. Did you see anything like this?

Château-Thierry Monument, Château-Thierry, France, November 2013 ©CE Hunt
Château-Thierry Monument, Château-Thierry, France, November 2013 ©CE Hunt

Probably not precisely. You injected your imagination, your knowledge of monuments and France or whatever, into your perception of the scene.

Here’s another example.

What did you see?

Think about what you really saw in your mind.

Did it look like this?

Fountain at Place Saint Saint Sulpice, December 28, 2012 ©CE Hunt
Fountain at Place Saint Saint Sulpice, December 28, 2012 ©CE Hunt

Probably not exactly. But that gives us a glimpse of why discussing books is so interesting, so rich. We are in a sense discussing ourselves a bit as well.

Of course, writers selfishly want you to read. That’s a big reason why we write. But we also think the world is a more interesting place when you do. It can, just like abstract art, transform the consumption of art away from a spectator sport to a participation sport. I like that.

Now available on Kindle or in paperback

Published by C E Hunt

C E Hunt is a writer and artist based in Louisiana and the Washington, DC area. This page is designed to share updates and commentary on his work and to highlight other works that may be of interest.

2 thoughts on “Readers Wanted

  1. Thanks for this reminder of why we read—and write. We’ve watched our share of TV and movies during the pandemic, but I’ve also read more books than I have in any period since I was a kid. I’d say some of the writing in TV in particular is noteworthy, but you’re right that a lot of it is junk food. Congratulations on the new book. Your creativity is inspiring and I hope people will enjoy reading about Steve’s next adventures as much as I did!

    Like

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