“We think of the writer as being the person who writes the book and the book as an object, solid and unchanging. But the book is a mutable object. I can write a book and you can read it, and in doing that, we’ve engaged in a process of cocreation. The book that you read is not the book that I wrote. You’re bringing your entire lived experience to it. That holds true for every reader in the world who reads this book, so if the book sells half a million copies, then that’s half a million different books out there in the world. They propagate. I can write something, but I have no idea and no control over how the book is read and what it becomes in the hands of another reader. And that’s exciting to me.”— Ruth Ozeki
This quotation from Ruth Ozeki illustrates two important aspects of reading. First, the “process of cocreation” she refers to explains the interaction between a reader and a literary text that is the basis of reader-response criticism. In The Reader, the Text, the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work (1978), Louise M. Rosenblatt calls this interaction “the reader’s contribution in the two-way, ‘transactional’ relationship with the text” (p. ix). In Rosenblatt’s terminology, the text is the written work and the poem is the meaning that the reader creates in interaction with the written words. Through this process of interacting with the text, the reader and the author work together to create meaning.
Second, this process of cocreation of meaning suggests what I find as the pleasure of rereading. This month I’ve been rereading some books I read 20 or 30 years ago. Because readers bring, as Ozeki says, their “entire lived experience” to a book, I am not now the same person I was when I first read those books. Although I enjoyed these books when I first read them, I think I’m finding a more personal sense of their meanings now that I’ve had the additional accumulated experiences of those 20 or 30 years.
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown