Let’s consider a continuum. On one end is channel surfing and on another end is deep quiet meditation – for a year, in a cave. Our culture moving faster and faster and faster and faster has brought us to a place where “hyper-text” – the “click”, that little “click” that takes you somewhere else in the middle of an article to which you may or may not ever come back, moves the brain horizontally across the landscape of ideas. Can and do some people go deeper into a subject using hypertext? They do, but they do it in spite of, not because of the way the digital world is training our brain. They do it in spite of – not because of.
More linear, deeper, quieter thinking yields more profound insights and more important creativity, more powerful creativity. So when we read a book, especially a novel, we go deeper and deeper and deeper into the world of someone else’s imagination. Thereby employing and understanding our own; because of course, the book is a conversation. It’s not a monologue. We think, “oh, somebody must think pretty well of themselves to write a hundred thousand words of their own story and expect everybody else to read it, and just take it down, like a pill.”
But that’s not actually the way it works at all. The writer puts forth a story, words and language. That story and language has a music to the reader’s ear – to the writer’s ear hopefully also. So, the writer is a composer and the reader is a listener. The music of prose, particularly in fiction, transports the reader to a different place. But it’s not the same place for every reader. Even though the story is the same and the language in the book is the same, the reader brings their own experience, their own feelings, their own culture, their own background, their own memories, their own associations, and their own imaginations, and their own creativity to it.
Reading is an active game – watching is a passive game. So it turns out that even now, the people who most deeply understand the world and run it – are people who read and write books.