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What Is Reading, Fundamentally? – BTT

This week’s Booking Through Thursday question is:

Suggested by: Thisisnotabookclub

What is reading, anyway? Novels, comics, graphic novels, manga, e-books, audiobooks — which of these is reading these days? Are they all reading? Only some of them? What are your personal qualifications for something to be “reading” — why? If something isn’t reading, why not? Does it matter? Does it impact your desire to sample a source if you find out a premise you liked the sound of is in a format you don’t consider to be reading? Share your personal definition of reading, and how you came to have that stance.

(Two weeks late for Reading is Fundamental week, but, well…)

Frankly, I think the question better asked is, What is a story? Because all of the mediums mentioned, novels, comics, graphic novels, manga, e-books, audiobooks, all qualify as something you can read (I even lump audiobooks in there…which I won’t discuss at great length here). But I can read the back of a cereal box, I can read a cookbook, I can read the back of a DVD case. But none of those are stories. At least with comics, graphic novels, manga, etc, it’s all a story that uses your imagination. But if someone says, “I enjoy reading”, do I then expect them to tell me what cereal boxes they’ve read? Certainly not.

I got into a disagreement with a friend about what she catalogues in Library Thing. She catalogues her cookbooks and any children’s book she’s read. I thought it was silly to catalogue your cookbooks as to me that isn’t reading. Reading, to me, engages your imagination. Don’t tell me cookbooks engage your imagination; you know what I mean.

To each their own. If a kid reads comic books, awesome! If somebody listens to a lot of audiobooks, great!

What saddens me the most is this: My friend overheard a co-worker say that one of her New Year’s resolutions is to read A book. As in one book. For the ENTIRE YEAR. Tell me that’s worse than nitpicking at WHAT people are reading.

*I’d love to get your input on this question…I think this will make for some interesting discussions around the blogosphere. Unfortunately, I may not be able to make it to each person’s blog who comments here. I hope you understand! My time is getting less and less as the wedding approaches (GAH! 10 days!).

| Tags: , , , 29 comments »

29 Responses to “What Is Reading, Fundamentally? – BTT”

  1. Melody

    I get what you mean, Trish! Reading to me is mostly about pleasure, and one that tells a story. I don’t view cookbooks as my reading pleasure, although they do help with my cooking skills, hehe.


  2. Kat

    I suddenly remember this joke where one person said, “I don’t understand my aunt. She gave me a book for my birthday! I mean, I already have a book! What do I need another one for?”

    I don’t really think the format’s relevant. So long as it’s something that you imbibe into your consciousness — whether or not it was done for leisure or not — I’d still call it reading. 🙂


  3. Peta

    You make some great points and I wish I’d thought of the reading equals a story angle!

    I am in shock about your co-worker’s NY resolution and I hope she manages it…


  4. gautami tripathy

    One book a year? God!


  5. Jan

    You really got to the heart of this question. Reading is all about the story–whatever format that is in. I have to say I do have cookbooks which have a story to tell–about food, travel, people–and they fire my imagination!


  6. Christine

    Eh, I’m not convinced. To me you seem to be answering a question from a few weeks ago: what is literature? I can’t buy the argument that “reading” is or is not itself depending on what is being read. Reading is a physical and mental process by which we understand text. (So audiobooks are not reading, but something else … unless you’re the person on the tape!).

    My longer answer is here:

    [No, I’m not answering the question of what is literature. I don’t really think the question was meant to ask for my definition of “reading”. If that was the point, then I could just look up the answer in a dictionary and be done with it. Rather, the question was trying to get to the heart of what reading is…if the question is more as you’ve defined it (which I don’t believe it is) then it’s a dumb question. –trish]


  7. Dr. Bad Ass

    Great question! I tend to think of reading as making meaning — much broader than reading print text. Obviously, I read lots of print text, but I also read topographical maps, and compare the meaning I make from them to my reading of landscapes. I read body language. Increasingly, visuals and auditory signals are involved in my reading — on web sites, etc.

    Stories will alway take a primary place, though, as you describe.


  8. Christine

    PS — my mother would surely argue that reading cookbooks is reading. She’s read all of ours, cover to cover.


  9. Megan

    Thats a good take on things. I don’t know if I wholeheartedly agree as I do consider nonfiction reading. I’m still formulating my response though…I’ll post in a while.

    A book in a year? sounds like my sister. I think it took her two years to read The Firm. I don’t know how I came out of such a non-reading family.

    [I wasn’t excluding non-fiction. I think non-fiction tells a story, in a way. What I was trying to do was answer the question on a deeper level, as I really didn’t think the question wanted me to define reading, per se. –trish]


  10. curlywurlygurly

    i read wedding registries for sport. 🙂 (it’s part of my job)

    i hope all goes well for you and that you ENJOY the big day. don’t fret over the little stuff–no one will notice anything if you are having fun!


  11. Devourer of Books

    I do have cookbooks in my LibraryThing, not so much because I think they they ARE ‘reading’ (although you must be able to read to use them, and some of them have some long, informative narrative sections), but more because I keep all of my books on LibraryThing, including language to language dictionaries that I never use. My LT is some sort of hybrid between what I have and what i read.

    However, in lieu of interesting, acceptable reading material, I will read any damn things with words, including cereal boxes, street signs, etc.

    Anyway, I answered the question here


  12. bethany canfield

    yeah, I am confused a little about the question..I answered it as it came: what is reading? I really like your answer better, I completely agree with what you say.

    happy thursday!


  13. Ann Darnton

    On the subject of reading ‘A’ book. I once interviewed a candidate for an English degree programme who, when I asked what she read for pleasure, replied (and I swear this is true) “Oh, if I’d thought you were going to ask me about books, I would have read one.” I don’t know if anyone did take her on to do a degree, but I certainly didn’t.


  14. Chris@bookarama

    Great answer, although I do have a few special cookbooks in my LT. The special ones.


  15. Jaimie

    I have not put my cookbooks or other reference materials in Librarything, but since we had a house fire a few years ago, I am considering another account for those types of books just for insurance purposes.
    I cannot imagine being a non-reader. Having read all my life it is just one of those things I cannot fathom.
    I am sending you the cactus story by e-mail. Enjoy!


  16. Nithin

    I never look at comics and graphic novels as reading. They rely too much on the pictures to convey the story.

    I’m not so surprised by your co-worker’s resolution. There are worse things than that, you know… Many of my friends haven’t read a book in their entire lives, and they think I’m stupid for wasting so much time reading. Laughing at people who read is much worse than reading one book a year! 🙂


  17. Shinejil

    You can read some cookbooks, the ones that are beautifully written about cuisines from cultures many folks in the US might not know, for example. Just saying.

    As someone who basically reads and forces others to read as part of my profession, I’m always a bit baffled by people who don’t seem to feel the intense connection to books and thoughtful reading (as opposed to the mindless reading examples you give in your post). It makes me sad, perhaps the way an organic vegetable farmer feels when s/he hears someone saying they hate all veggies.

    Here from NLCM.


  18. Jendeis

    Being a non-reader just boggles my mind. What do you do all day? Heck, what does your bathroom look like? (Cuz my countertop is covered with reading material).

    For me, I will list a cookbook on my Library Thing catalog if I feel that it was more than just recipes and had a lot of reading in it. But I think the definition is pretty fluid.


  19. Eliza

    Reading, period, is good if you ask me. Of course, you’re talking to a writer who married a profoundly dyslexic man who has NEVER IN EIGHT YEARS READ A BOOK! *A* BOOK! So maybe my standards have dipped a little…


  20. pussreboots

    I catalog any book in GoodReads that I’ve reviewed (or will review) on my blog. This list includes a whole bunch of kids books. So far I’ve only reviewed one cook book and I can’t remember if I’ve added it my GoodReads shelf or not.


  21. mary

    i know a lot of people who would consider cookbooks as engaging! i have a few Italian cookbooks which spend many pages explaining the history of the food.


  22. softdrink

    I’m with Eliza…any reading is good, be it thoughtful or mindless. Actually, I don’t think any reading is mindless…comic books still engage people, so how is that mindless?


  23. Linda

    I think reading does include cookbooks, backs of cereal boxes, all of that. There are different purposes for reading though. Maybe the question should be more “what is reading for enjoyment.” Because there are all kinds of writing, there are all kinds of reading.


  24. Rebecca

    I enjoy cooking books. I would consider reading a cookbook as reading. I think it depends how you approach it. If I sat down and read the cookbook, I’d be reading it (and I can see myself doing that). If I referenced it as I made my dinner, I think I’d be using it.

    I wrote about audiobooks. Yes, the author is the one reading, but I am also engaged in it. It’s reading, but a different type of it.


  25. Literary Feline

    I think you make a couple of very good points in regards to what reading means to me. There is the fundamental definition–being able to read the written word in general, and then the enjoyment and seeking out of a story.

    I admit that I do catalog cookbooks in LT, but I it sounds like I use the site for a slightly different purpose than you do. While I agree that I do not read those books by your meaning, they are books and they are in my home, therefore I log them in my LT library. My account is a record of all the books I own in general.


  26. Amy

    I’m hosting a read one book challenge at my blog for the non-bookish. 🙂


  27. mashadutoit

    I like your point about storytelling as opposed to simply reading. Although I am so addicted to reading that I’ve been known to grab the nearest shampoo bottle to read the lable, when nothing else is available!
    I wrote a post on storytelling on my blog that you might find interesting…


  28. mellymel

    i agree with you…although i have been known to curl up with a cookbook now and then. i don’t add them to my “list”. and you are right, to each their own, any storytelling genre is okay with me, but not necessarily for me. i’ll take many pages bound together, thank you very much. 🙂


  29. Beth A.

    I think it depends on the cookbook. I have cookbooks that are mostly recipes with a bit of extra writing, but I also have cookbooks that are extensively informative on the science of cooking. I sit down and read them, and often the recipes are incidental to the rest of what I’m learning. I suppose it comes down to the difference between a reference book and a textbook.

    I treat Librarything as a way to catalog my entire home library, which means everything goes in. But I agree that it doesn’t all count as reading. When I compile my list of what I’ve read in the past month, it certainly doesn’t include dictionaries.


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