Reading In, Reading Out

[Originally posted at SF Novelists.]


I know that putting the word “postmodernism” up at the front of the post will send some people screaming in the other direction, but bear with me for a moment. One of the things postmodernism brought to literature was the idea that there’s no One True Meaning to a story; there can be many meanings, each constructed by the reader, filtering textual details through the lens of their own experiences. Different people will read different things out of the story, whether the author consciously attempted to put them there or not.

That isn’t what I want to talk about here.

What I want to do is contrast it with something: not reading out, but reading in. I was talking about this recently with some friends, in the context of the type of story with an element that might or might not be fantasy. Me? I say screw the hedging and the ambiguity; I read that type of story as fantasy, and I do so willfully. If the end of the story comes down on the side of reality, making that fantastical element psychological or symbolic or whatever . . . thanks, but I’ll stick with my own interpretation.

It happens with other things, too. I willfully read strength into characters (especially women) that aren’t given any, or sympathy into characters the story wants me to demonize. And I choose that phrase for it because this isn’t something I think is in the story at all; I’m adding it wholesale, entirely against any reasonable interpretation that would pass muster with a decent literature professor. In some respects it’s akin to the fanfic impulse, especially when fanfic is used to rehabilitate something seen as a flaw or hole in the source. It’s like I’m building my own story in my head, related to but not the same as the story on the page.

And you know, I like doing it. This habit has allowed me to enjoy any number of crappy movies I might otherwise be bored by — movies more than books, because if a book bores me I’m likely to just stop reading. Plus, the movie will roll onward while I play my own mental game, instead of requiring me to pay attention to words on a page. (It has, however, burned me once or twice, when I go back to watch something I remember being really fun or creepy or whatever, only to discover — usually when I try to show it to friends — that it’s actually a piece of crap.)