Too often, reading is viewed as a passive act where the information is poured into static readers’ minds. To succeed at the college level, a reworking of the way one reads may be necessary. Read the following passage from reading researcher Katherine McCormick and jot down your interpretation of its meaning:
Tony slowly got up from the mat, planning his escape. He hesitated a moment and thought. Things were not going well. What bothered him the most was being held, especially since the charge against him had been weak. He considered his present situation. The lock that held him was strong but he thought he could break it . . . . He was being ridden unmercifully . . . . He felt that he was ready to make his move.
From the two possible interpretations here, it seems clear that 1) readers use their previous experiences to make meaning out of a text, and 2) context influences meaning. After all, if we knew we were reading a short story on wrestling, our understanding of the passage would differ. Reading needs to be recognized as an active process. Read the following poem by Thomas Lux and answer all of the questions below in complete sentences. The questions appear after the poem.
The Voice You Hear When You Read Silently
is not silent, it is a speaking-out-loud voice in your head;
it is spoken,a voice is saying it as you read.
It’s the writer’s words, of course, in a literary sense his or her “voice”
but the sound of that voice is the sound of your voice.
Not the sound your friends know or the sound of a tape played back
but your voice
caught in the dark cathedral of your skull, your voice heard by an internal
ear informed by internal abstracts
and what you know by feeling, having felt.
It is your voice saying, for example, the word “barn” that the writer wrote
but the “barn” you say is a barn you know or knew.
The voice in your head, speaking as you read, never says anything
neutrally–some people hated the barn they knew,
some people love the barn they know
so you hear the word loaded and a sensory constellation is lit:
horse-gnawed stalls, hayloft, black heat tape wrapping a water pipe,
a slippery spilled chirr of oats from a split sack,
the bony, filthy haunches of cows . . .
And “barn” is only a noun–no verb or subject has entered into the sentence yet!
The voice you hear when you read to yourself is the clearest voice: you speak its speaking to you.
- When you hear the word barn, what barn or barns from your own life do you first see? What feelings and associations do you have with this word? How do you think the barn in your head is different from the barns in your classmates’ heads?
- When you hear the word cathedral, what images and associations from your own life come into your head? Once again, how might your classmates’ internal images and associations with the word cathedral differ from yours?
- Now reread the poem and consider the lines “Not the sound your friends know or the sound of a tape played back / but your voice / caught in the dark cathedral of your skull.” What do you think Lux means by the metaphor “dark cathedral of your skull”? What seems important about his choice of the word cathedral (rather than, say, house or cave or gymnasium or mansion)? How does skull work (rather than mind or brain or head)? Freewriting for several minutes, create your interpretation of “dark cathedral of the skull.”
- Finally, reflect for a moment about your thinking processes in trying to interpret “cathedral of the skull.” Did you go back and reread the poem, looking for how this line fits other lines of the poem? Did you explore further your own ideas about cathedrals and skull? See if you can catch yourself in the act of interacting with the text—or actively constructing meaning.