Peter Damien’s post on The Sounds of Reading reflected a conversation that my friends and I were having just a few days ago. When you read something, are there voices in your head? Or are there images? Or do you screen a mini-movie for yourself? For me, this question moves across genres, and the way I approach them is different. When I am reading non-fiction, especially theoretical texts, where not many events are mentioned, I am very conscious of the accent in which I am reading (even when I am reading in my mind). On the other hand, stories and narrations occur in flashes of images. I.e. I can perceive the characters and settings in detail. Yet, it is not at all movie-like. My room-mate, however, mentions that her way of reading always involves a film screen of the mind. Even when she faces a theoretical text, she attempts to associate it with incidents- either in her life or incidents that she has heard about, irrespective of whether they relate to the text itself. She says that a word can trigger a memory of an incident totally unrelated to the narration involved. Without such co-relations, she finds it difficult to comprehend a text.
Poetry, is a slightly different experience. The flashes of images that present themselves in stories are different from those in poetry. Words, I feel, are usually more vivid in poems, where more is expressed through less words, and it is the image that captivates. For instance, Prufrock's "yellow fog" that is most cat-like, is an image that stands out against the backdrop of the poem. Recently, we have been holding a poetry jam session, where we listen to the words. Of course, there is a difference between reading in your own head, reading aloud to yourself and listening to others read. I am most comfortable with the first two. But with poetry, or poetical narratives, the images that are read out aloud create sharp and colourful visuals.
Colour, I think, is another interesting thing to think about. If one tends to visualise a text, how colourful are they? Even if colours are not described, does one tend to place a colour to an image? Are they affected by other visuals, or are they randomly selected? I say this, because, I had a very interesting experience in a class on creative writing. A professor of ours requested us to close our eyes and handed out a bag of random objects. Without seeing the object, we had to visualise it in our mind's eye. And without knowing what the object was, we had to write about it. The object I touched, without seeing it, was a shade of grey. I do not know what made me think of that colour, but I was certain of its greyness. The object turned out to be a red cocktail-stirrer, though. Isn't it the same with words? Are they not unseeable visuals that take shape in our head- almost like Prufrock's yellow fog? Do we then, ascribe colours to these unseeable objects?
Though I tend to read texts 'out loud' in my mind, I still feel that I am capable of both reading faster when I read silently, and also that I can skip bits and pieces of passages when I do. And this applies to all kinds of texts- stories, theories, passages, articles, poems and all of that. Speed essentially differs based on mood, interest, and comprehensibility- not so much on the silence or the loudness of the reading. Even interest triggers different speeds! For instance, I could either race through it, because of its quick and gripping narrative, or I could slow down considerably, because I want to savour every word and every image related to it. Sometimes, a single page could take me five minutes to digest. This has sometimes made my friends wonder whether I was enjoying the piece or not! Comprehension of the text, of course, plays a major role in the speed of reading. Sometimes, I need to read and re-read a text to get the meanings. Sometimes, I find that reading out loud helps me in this comprehension, but I slow down when I do this. And finally mood- even the most racy and interesting read could put me off if I just don't feel like dealing with it at that point in time.
On a slightly tangential note, I find that book covers play a prominent part in whether I can read a book or not. The cover, in a sense, speaks to me. The image, the colour and the font are important. They help with speed, the images in my head and are definitely based on my mood. Indeed, the book cover is almost a minor conversation in my head that leads to the larger interaction between me and my book.