I just started reading the new Michael Chabon book Telegraph Avenue, and the most curious thing started happening–I started casting familiar actors as the lead characters in the novel. I pictured the drama being played out by some of my favorite character actors–Forest Whitaker, John Turturro, Maya Rudolph, and a favorite actor from The Wire, Clarke Peters (aka Lester Freamon). [ Side note: I have since learned from a colleague that the audio version of this book is narrated by none other than Clarke Peters and that is pretty great.] What initially brought me to read this novel was not the author’s talent (although that can’t be denied), but the fact that the novel takes place in my old stomping grounds–a few adjoining neighborhoods in South Berkeley and Oakland, California, circa 2004. I know these neighborhoods and their people and haunts well, so when Chabon references a (supposedly imaginary) Ethiopian restaurant in a specific neighborhood, I can literally smell, and taste, and feel it.
Which brings me to something I’ve been thinking about lately–people read differently. The idiosyncratic way that I read (casting actors and favorite haunts in key roles) is not the way that you, dear patron, necessarily take in the written word. An informal (and highly unscientific) poll amongst my co-workers yielded diverse results: some people tend to visualize what they’re reading, others picture the written word as something more akin to an interactive play, and still others don’t necessary visualize much at all, and process the written word as more of a thought/intellectual experience.
An article in the New York Times this past year called “Your Brain on Fiction” discussed the neuroscience of reading, highlighting the various sensory parts of the brain that can be stimulated while reading the humble written word. According to this article:
What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well, suggesting why the experience of reading can feel so alive. Words like “lavender,” “cinnamon” and “soap,” for example, elicit a response not only from the language-processing areas of our brains, but also those devoted to dealing with smells.
From this article, it appears that reading (and yes, watching movies) are the original “virtual experience.” My question(s) to you: how do you read? Do certain formats trigger different reactions? Do you see it, hear it, feel it, and yes, even occasionally taste it?
Happy reading all,