Petra (Erratic Engineeress) writes. She collects her thoughts to create musings. She recalls memories to tell about her trips. She lets the words flow to compose poems. Petra reads, taking the time to discover stories and imagine new worlds…
There’s something about reading. The other day after finishing a book I got to thinking about why reading is still such an irreplaceable act even in today’s digital world and what it means to me.
Ever since I was a child, I have been a reader – it is both an obsession and a mindset. Proper reading requires you to sit down and focus on what you are reading, be it a book, a newspaper, or a blog. It is a deliberate act of carving a chunk of time out of your busy day and dedicating it to reading, precisely and on purpose. It is a conscious decision to stick with the words on the page, even though you are not sure if those words will be worth your time in the end. Because with reading, you never know what you are going to get – you might enjoy the story but hate the writing style, or you might love the author’s carefully crafted word flow and find the message boring or irrelevant.
There is a certain art to arranging words on a page, and proper readers appreciate it. You cannot just word vomit on your literary product and expect it to gain traction, which is what many people fail to take into account. Reading requires time and we humans do not particularly enjoy wasting our time, because life is too short to read bad literature. Whatever we are reading needs to be either informative or make us feel something, evoke a smile, or force a tear.
When it comes to feelings, reading is probably the most intimate activity you can do with an inanimate object (go ahead and smirk at this one if you want to). Much like music, the words we read enter our minds, where we process them through a unique frame of our language, cultural background, and life experiences. No two people will ever perceive and understand a text in the same way, which is exactly why reading is so special.
While movies are explicitly designed to make us feel the right thing at the right time, it is always second hand emotion, elicited by the characters on the screen. They always feel limited somehow, created, and stuck in a box within the context of the movie. In contrast, the characters we read about are built inside our minds. The words we read are processed and interpreted into our own personal movie inside our heads, composed of our own experiences and all the depth we have unconsciously assigned to them. Even when there are no character descriptions, we like to imagine what they might look like, assign them attributes and a certain vibe, until we feel like we almost know them.
Proper reading takes unconscious effort and the presence of mind to analyse and absorb the meaning behind what we have read, so it is no wonder it is getting harder and harder to read in the busy modern world. We build a whole new world to accommodate what we have read in the context it deserves, which takes a fair bit of mental capacity and focus, and our attention is often too divided for it nowadays. However, for me, there is no more profound experience than finishing a book, which has penetrated my mind, conquered it, and left it blank to the point where I need to sit still and just exist for a few minutes after I have turned the last page.
It is the ultimate high, otherwise attainable only through drugs or good music, but a more subtle one. It leaves you forever changed and expands your horizons – your vocabulary, your perspective, and your neural network. It rewires your beliefs and offers new avenues of thinking, as if you have lived a lifetime through those pages, and in a way, you have.
There is something about reading, and it cannot be replaced by anything else. So, to wrap it up, I leave you with this quote from one of my favourite books:
“Bea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it’s an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day.”
Carlos Ruiz Zafón – The Shadow of the Wind
You can read some of Petra’s poems here.