GUC: Readers’ relationships with books should be questioned

Opinions Column: Macro to Micro

It seems like I am always surrounded by books. Books in my personal library that are waiting to be read. Books that are pivotal for my research projects. Books, worn and bent, that I cherish and carry with me sometimes out of pure affection. This consistent exposure to what may be regularly regarded as a mundane object has led me to reflect upon what exactly constitutes a book. In physical terms, it is usually recognized by its form and material. Shaped in the standard shape of a rectangle, it is comprised of a cover and thin paper bound to a foundational spine. But a physical appearance is insufficient. Content — usually in the form of individual letters inked together to create a piece of text — is required. And such text must be arranged purposefully with a specific intention to form a comprehensible and meaningful piece of literature that will offer a potential reader reasons as to why it is deserving to be read.

Books can evoke many emotions. Certain books may sadden us, others may provoke outbursts of joy or anger, and some fill us with a type of melancholy difficult to express in words. Moreover, the feelings enveloped in a book may remain with a person long after its physical pages are opened and closed. That is what makes a book special: Its value and effect is intangible and not limited to its material side. Even if the physical book were destroyed in a fire or ruined beyond repair, if it was read at least once, its meaning will forever be preserved in the consciousness of its single reader. One may even conclude that the essence of a book — the quality that defines it — is the meaning woven into its printed words which is transferrable, extractable and immaterial. The underlying task, though, remains in investigating the source of such meaning. The inked letters or the paper itself may be probed, but it is clear that they, by themselves, cannot create meaning or be the absolute cause of it. Thus, one may gather that the source of the meaning is not within the book itself or of the nature of the book. Its source, as all can deduce, must be that which has the ability to knowingly form and create meaningful content using tools like letters and words: An author.

An author writes with its reader in mind — intentionally forming phrases and sentences with meaning beyond their visible characters and letters. As such, a book becomes a means of communication — communication between the author of the text and the potential reader. The author constructs text. The reader deconstructs that same text and imbibes meaning from it. The author of a book and a reader of the same book can form a relationship through a written text. And this relationship will continue to exist in an active fashion as the text is open to being continuously deconstructed in various ways. One may derive a certain meaning from a book read as a child and later form a completely different understanding of the same book as an adult. Studies upon literature like Shakespeare’s works continue to exist precisely because the text is constantly explored and interpreted through varying lens. Thus, the text constructed by an author never becomes dead or passive. It is always there to engage with the reader in a new way. Furthermore, although one may never directly meet the author, one can conceive ideas of the kind of qualities belonging to the author through the types of feelings and sentiments expressed in the text. Similarly, one can try to decipher what the author expects the reader to understand from the text. Hence there is the formation and continuing existence of a dynamic connection between the author and reader.

This may explain why books are so universally adored. Beyond their fancy covers and text-filled pages, they open a door of communication that one can enter in solitude and leave with newfound meaning and connection. A teacher of mine once told me that a “text” is difficult to define. It may be perceived in the form of a book as we usually come to expect it. Or it may come in the form of symbols or art. Anything can be a text as long as meaning from it can be deconstructed. This transformative definition can change one’s interactions with something as “ordinary” as a leaf. Just like a book, one may attempt to “read” it for meaning that transcends its materiality. It is through this mindset that one can utilize their sense of human questioning and investigative nature to form new understandings of all that exists.

Aysenur Guc is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in philosophy. Her column,"Macro to Micro," runs on alternate Mondays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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