Do we read the same book?

Reading is the opposite of a closed circle

I don’t think we do. When we read, we are bringing to it the sum of all our experiences – in life and other books – which is why reading is an active process, not a passive one. I take inferences, make connections, have responses that are different to those of the other reader. (This is especially true for me, because the people with whom I share books most of the time are 10 year olds.) We make connections that grow out from us like fungal mycelium. It’s the opposite of a closed circle; it’s a circle that branches out and splits off into unique trails, dissolves and reforms.

When the writer tells us that she was beautiful, my idea of beautiful is probably slightly different from yours. Our responses will be similar, but not the same. In a book we were reading recently, a mole surfaced in the garden, and the lead character wondered whether the creature had had enough of spring cleaning and was going on an adventure. Now I know, and you know, that this was a reference to Mole in Wind in the Willows, but my 10-year-old companions didn’t know. They do now, and my impulse was to forget the rest of the curriculum and read Kenneth Grahame’s wonderful book for the rest of the week, preferably down by the river with a picnic.

We do not step into the same river twice nor, for different reasons, do we step into the same book. (You don’t step into the same book twice, for that matter.)

I have worked with lots of children who find reading difficult and so don’t read. And because they don’t read, it stays difficult. It’s the closed circle. I always urge them to keep working at it, so that one day it will get easier and more enjoyable. They sometimes return with the argument that reading isn’t for everyone and then I bow my head sadly and have to agree. But my job as a teacher is to make sure you can read, and try to make that experience enjoyable, so that reading for pleasure is one of the options you will have when you get older. Reading for pleasure is a skill you can practise, in my view, not a predisposed condition that you are born with, although some will have to practise harder than others.