Vladimir Nabokov’s essay “Good Readers and Good Writers” was my first introduction to meaningful reading. I hated it.
I was resistant to Nabokov’s advice. I wanted to read for the enjoyment of reading. I loved the idle pleasures of getting lost in a story. I didn’t believe that literature could only be understood after three thorough readings and rigid analysis. But over time, I have found that I agree with him.
As a society, we need a more conscientious view of literature. How often are great authors with great messages misunderstood because of casual, surface level understandings? I recall Ray Bradbury’s outrage at a lecture when college students argued with him – the author- about the meaning of his novel Farenheit 451. What a casual reader understood to be a story of a book burning, knowledge restricting government was wildly misinterpreted. Bradbury’s true intention was to show how the ongoing crisis of casual reading will lead to this type of world.
Sixty years later and we have continued to fall more deeply into the pitfalls of a highly literate society. Media outlets overload our lives, from our phones alone we are bombarded with information from newspapers, facebook, instagram, twitter. We naturally have to flit over these things as there would never be time to read and apply the “Nabokov Treatment” to each of them. Nor does all of this information deserve such treatment.
The source of this superficial epidemic comes from not giving this special treatment to the sources that do deserve it. The news is so often misinterpreted, just as Bradbury’s work. Minor events are blown out of proportion while the major things are swept under the rug. Biased news thrives on our culture’s proclivity to accept what information we are told. Just as Bradbury predicted, our technology advancements may be the thing which will keep us from growing.
By thinking beyond the basics, by going deeper than the surface level, by taking responsibility for our own beliefs, we can come to a more accurate understanding of the world and ourselves. Finding the truth in real life events is every bit as important as finding the truth in literature as well. Where the news impacts our outer self, literature impacts our inner self.
Remember the Twilight craze? It was only after people started giving this story the Nabokov Treatment that the hype started to die down. Yes, on a surface level the story is emotional and exciting. But there is little substance, if any. When looked at more closely, the meaning behind the work, if the author intended there to be any, would put feminism back to the 1950’s.
Whether we are reading these things consciously or passively, the true meaning of these works seep gradually into our subconscious. If a teen girl read Twilight, her psyche would not be permanently damaged. However, if she read 50 more books with the same anti-feminist undertones as Twilight, her subconscious would begin to accept that this is how society should work. Only if that girl would read these books critically would she notice that these flaws do not make for a good depiction of reality. Neither would they stand up to Nabokov’s rigorous treatment of reading. This same girl would be made stronger by being able to recognize the flaws in character judgment, the unsound treatments of women’s rights, the lack of depth beyond the story line.
Don’t let information wash over you, changing your subconscious and guiding you by the hand. Take responsibility for your identity and your beliefs. The more you invest in literature the more you will get out of it.
I remember as a child I loved The Secret Garden, but it was not until rereading it as an adult that I found the true message of the story. As the children cultivated the garden, they grew just as the flowers grew. They changed into better people where at first there seemed to be little hope. As a child, if I were asked what this story was about I would have said it was about children who grew a garden. Now I would reply that it was about our ability to find sanctuary and peace within ourselves. Which understanding would you rather have?
What books have you returned to as an adult and found that they mean something quite different than what you remembered? How has a conscientious interaction with media changed your outlook? Share in the comments how you have been changed by using the Nabokov Treatment.