Reading with Multiple Minds

Posted: February 5, 2013 by cherylmahoney in Cheryl's Words
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What mind do you read with?  I find it all rather complicated—sometimes I have on my reader-mind…or my editor-mind…or my writer-mind.  With the reader-mind, of course, I just enjoy what I’m reading and get carried along by the story.  With the editor-mind, I wince at comma splices and notice repetitive word choice.  With the writer-mind, I appreciate the craft, and have some idea of why the reader-mind is having such a good time.

Based on conversations with friends, I think this is something that often happens to writers.  We engage with the craft in so many ways, it changes all the ways we engage with a story.

Now and then one mind comes out when I’d rather it didn’t.  The editor-mind has had fits over some of Mercedes Lackey’s word choice.  And the writer-mind nearly got me into real trouble with a paper in college.

We were supposed to write a literary analysis of a book of our choice from a selected list, and I’d chosen Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme.  I have to confess, one reason I made that choice was because, hidden among those sixty stories, there was one called “The Phantom of the Opera’s Friend,” which is about exactly what it sounds like (that, I think, was the fangirl-mind at work).  But that wasn’t the main reason.  Mostly, I was fascinated by Barthelme’s use of pop culture references.

Pop culture turns up in stories all the time, to good or bad effect, but this was particularly interesting because Barthelme’s stories are bizarre.  Fragmented, fractured, plots go in strange directions, characters may be in fantasy stories or they may simply be delusional, the writing style changes midway, some stories are all dialogue or all stream of consciousness and, well, it’s all bizarre in pretty much every direction it can be.  And then in the middle of the chaos, just as I had completely lost any sense of normality or touch with the real world, Barthelme drops in a reference to Rolling Stone or Nietzsche, and suddenly I felt I had a touch-point again.  Suddenly the bizarre was again accessible and I felt reconnected to the story.

My writer-mind thought this was fascinating.  What an amazingly cool device in writing!  You can tell a completely mad story, and keep the reader grounded by giving them something familiar in the midst of it.  I still think that’s wonderful.

But my professor wanted me to be looking at it as a reader.  All right, so you read a bizarre story that you can connect with because the writer used a trick with recognizable references.  So?  What does the reader get out of this?

I still don’t have a good answer to that.  So I wrote something vague about disconnecting from the world and then reconnecting in order to learn something about the world.  My professor didn’t really like that as my conclusion and to be honest, neither did I, but I got a decent grade–so I guess it worked out.  The real difficulty was that my writer-mind got very excited and got me into writing about this, and then it was all the wrong angle for the paper I was supposed to write!

Most of the time the writer-mind helps me out, though.  I like being able to appreciate the cool things writers are doing.  Mostly it just gives me a different way to enjoy what I’m reading.  The editor-mind does interfere with some reading…but I guess it also encourages me to read good books!

So do you run into this reading?  Do you find it benefits or detracts from your reading to have all these different minds at work?  And do you know any reliable way to turn the wrong ones off?

Or maybe this all seems quite fragmented and fractured and disconnected from reality, and I ought to have thrown in some pop culture references to keep you connected.  But after all, why do you think I even mentioned the Phantom of the Opera? 🙂

  1. […] Reading with Multiple Minds ( […]

  2. Matthew Ridenour says:

    With me, it depends on the book, and how interested I am in it. Learning to write has damaged my ability to love specific stories – mostly because of the styles of the individual authors. I never had that before. When I first pick up a book, I’m wearing my editing cap by instinct. But if I love the story, that cap turns the other way, and I find myself lost in the story as a reader.

  3. I have the “get lost in the story” reader mind on fully when I read, or at the very least that is my default mode. I notice if I am in a group read I am sometimes more in the writer/reviewer mind where I am noticing potential “issues” to discuss and am reading in a slightly different way. The editor-mind engages mostly when I see egregious spelling/punctuation errors. I am many decades away from grammatical lessons and know my own grammar is appalling (something I really should do something about sooner rather than later…or never).

    My primary goal in reading is to enjoy the experience and be entertained, moved, challenged to the degree that a) the author intended and b) it affected me as a unique individual. I feel the pressure to be a little more of a “critic” when it comes to reviews I write for other sites but as I noticed even today with comments on the Andromeda’s Fall review I did for SF Signal, it isn’t always an easy thing to review with passion while attaching a critical score to a book.

    • You seem to be able to use the right mind at the right time–that’s a good skill!

      You’ve raised some good notes here too about how reviewing affects reading. I think sometimes I get into more of the editor-mind when I want to review a book…or maybe I need another mind here, the reviewer-mind. Sometimes whether or not the reviewer-mind steps in becomes the reason I do or don’t review something!

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