As a lifelong reader and learner, I’ve come to recognize that where we read is important. After I graduated college, I lived in NYC and rode the subway everyday. It was crowded and noisy, but it was my undivided, uninterrupted time when I could delve into a complex subject and read until my stop (at least 30-50 minutes at a time). When I moved to South Dakota, one of the things I missed was my commute and time to read on the subway. Now I had to carve time out to read on the couch. When I moved to Ohio, I drove a lot and began to listen to audiobooks. I found the experience different from reading with my eyes. Of course, I was only distracted by traffic and weather. In each instance, the environment where I read played a big factor in how I experienced the book. Strangely enough, I have problems disappearing into a digital text.
As we begin to study the history of the book in earnest, we need to consider how our interaction with text, story, and books has changed over time. When literature was oral, story tellers traveled to cities and towns telling tales, exchanging stories with others, and learning or making up new songs and stories. As the stories evolved, the kernels of the tale remained the same, and perhaps the lessons or morals (think Aesop). In each place, the listener interacted with the teller and the stories were passed down from one generation to the next, changing with language, custom, and time. When the stories were written down, they ceased changing as much. The story was then read by the story teller who perhaps listened within his head, or if read out loud, the audience heard the words.
If we take a step away from author / teller and listener / reader, we realize that the story is heard many different ways by each person who hears or reads the tale. If distracted, perhaps the story is only partially absorbed. If focused, many questions may arise. As the story is experienced over and over, then the reader / listener gains more insight into the tale, history, genealogy, family lore, or event.
Listening and reading are just different ways to experience the same tale, they require different routines or muscles to interact with the story teller. Place also changes the experience. Consider reading a tale about explorers while you are hiking a trail or driving a rural road. That experience is very different from being an armchair explorer, safe and warm in your own house.
Take the time to read a book slowly, ravenously, deliciously, and even ponderously. Listen to different narrators, see a play, watch a movie, and read the book. How do the stories and experiences differ. Now consider how our ancestors interacted with the story teller. In the end, the interaction is the same.