Why I Talk to Books

Each morning I indulge myself for an hour in sacrosanct reading time at Starbucks.  My favorite spot during weekends is the location on Route 35 in Sea Girt, NJ, a stone’s throw from Point Pleasant Beach.  My counter perch provides a nice view of infinite regress, but I rarely space outward, immersed as I am in my literary thoughts.

Most passersby are happy to go about their business while I go about mine, but periodically someone will look over my shoulder and say: “I notice that you read alot; what type of work do you do?”  That leads to a conversation about my work with children and adults having learning-based vision problems, often revolving around reading.

Occasionally someone might ask to borrow a book, and when I relent (begrudgingly, fearing the book may not find its way back home) my curious habit of carrying on a running dialogue with the book’s author becomes apparent.  In actuality it’s more of a one way conversation, consisting of my voice reaching out to the author through highlighting and various notes.

Why did highlighters become popular?  Perhaps it originally had something to do with focusing one’s attention on the page, highlighting areas to which we might return.  As a student I was shocked to learn that people used highlighters in texts, yet alone wrote notes.  It seemed that books were too sacred to write in them and besides, it would also decrease the re-sale value of the book.

Who was I kidding?  I never re-sell books.  Much to my wife’s chagrin they are in Tupperware tins and book cases and piled up in various places.  Overcoming the trepidation of writing in a book, my highlighting and marginalia became incessant.  So why do I talk to books?  Quite frankly, because they talk to me.  A good writer wants you to think and to visualize, and if your mind doesn’t hyperlink with other thoughts then either the writing is superficial, or you’re reading at a surface level.

Surely one doesn’t have to make notes or arrows like I do.  Doing it meticulously with the edge or rounded corner of my Starbucks card may seem little more than an artistic form of OCD.  But I enjoy linking the author’s thoughts to mine, possibly anticipating what the other is thinking.  My arrows can sling forward or backward, be open-ended or have a tail with a centered dot, like the pictorial of a nerve synapse.  My highlighters have their own color code, a parallel of sorts to how lifeguards alert beach-goers to surf conditions with flags inserted in the sand.  Red is for an intense thought or passage; green if more moderate and yellow for something interesting but not profound.

It doesn’t really matter what your code is for talking to your book.  You may even use a Kindle or a Nook or some other form of electronic reader that allows you to interact with the text.  Those who are challenged to read visually, or those seeking to save time, may resort to audio-books.  I may succumb one day to reading by ear, though not willingly.  As long as I have my vision, I will continue to indulge my eyes in the silent colors, notes and arrows that give voice to me, the reader.  This is part of the essence of the visuality of reading.


About Leonard J. Press, O.D., FAAO, FCOVD

Developmental Optometry is my passion as well as occupation. Blogging allows me to share thoughts in a unique visual style.
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3 Responses to Why I Talk to Books

  1. Pingback: THE VISUALITY OF READING – Part 4 « The VisionHelp Blog

  2. Shelly says:

    As a commuter into NYC, I have a similar “habit.” Although I sometimes write or even watch DVDs on my laptop, I usually find myself getting back to basics, which is the book in my backpack. I have made several attempts at audio books, but I find them less than satisfactory, because for me, they don’t evoke the imagery that reading does. I also get frustrated because listening is too slow. Sometimes I will plug into my iPod and listen to assorted podcasts. This will work for a little while, but then I begin to long for a good work of historical fiction!

  3. Thanks for the comment, Shelly. I fully agree — imagery is the key. Nicholas Carr wrote a wonderful book called “The Shallows”, just out. It’s a spinoff of an article he wrote from Atlantic titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid”. He does a nice jog of discussing imagery while reading, and how techo-reading required us to change the way our brain functions. Like you, I’m transitioning but reluctant to dilute the rich stores of imagery we’ve spent a lifetime accumulating and refining. Best – Len

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