Tuesday, September 16, 2014

by Will Hunter Friedman

If you are going to write a book report, close reading is the way to go. If you are studying for a test, close read to your heart’s content. If you are a lawyer and are preparing for a case, there is this thing call close reading that would probably help you out. If you’re a cool college dude who is trying to impress a girl with his knowledge of Shakespeare, close reading  will lets you sound like you know what you’re talking about even if you don’t really. In summary, close reading helps with memorization and regurgitation, and with appearances. The question is, will close reading help you understand the exactly what the text says? The answer: Yes, it will. Is there a better way? YES! That is the problem. Close reading can get you to a certain point, after which it can’t help anymore. Close reading is an easy way to examine facts. After you close read, you can say “Person X is such-and-such because on page 6 of book 3 of the Blah Blah Series… ” That was a very factual explanation, Mr. Close Reader. In order to completely understand what it is I’m reading, I personally employ a much more difficult technique. Mental visualization. It may not sound like it is difficult, but it is. This is not the cheap “use your imagination” that your mom told you about when you were younger. Instead, you place yourself into the body of a character. This technique is draining and exhausting, since it will feel like you are in the story. If it is done right, you won’t be able to say things like “On page 12” or “In chapter 9.” You will have no conscious memory of reading. Instead, you will have seen everything play out from the eyes of a character, as if you were the character. This means that you will not remember who you are. You will become the character so much that you that you forget you exist. Your subconscious mind will continue to read the words on the pages, and “you” will act as the book describes. The upside is that you also won’t say “I think character Z was feeling this or that.” You will be able to say “Character Z was feeling this.” Why will you be able to say this? Because when you read, you used mental visualization and, in essence, were character Z! Do you want to know the best part? Close reading is limited to text. Mental visualization can be used for all forms of media. Who has wanted to be Luke Skywalker when he blows up the Death Star? I know I have. Using Mental Visualization, I can do that. Have any of my readers wanted to be Inigo Montoya when he duels “the Man in Black?” That is one of my favorite scenes to run through in my head. Who has seen Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr., or read the Pendergast series by Lincoln and Child? Both of these representations of the perfect detective used a form of mental visualization. It is a powerful tool, to be used when you want to know what you’re reading about. Thanks for reading! Please, comment and share your stories and ideas.


  1. Oh geez this sounds dangerous.

    That may sound facetious or hyperbolic but HEAR ME OUT, guy!

    What happens when you are introduced to a narrative with despicable characters? Murderous characters? Characters whose moral sensibilities would poison your soul if you were to allow yourself to fully immerse in them, indeed as if you WERE them, for the duration of the book?

    I agree that there is definitely some value in psychologically immersing into the minds of a text's characters. It allows for deeper empathy (which Roger Ebert would argue is the purpose of art), and it allows for a visceral and powerful experience. I am only asking if that value always outweighs the costs. Because there are costs, are there not?

    If I read The Count of Monte Cristo and immerse myself into Edmond Dantès' revenge fantasy, I become vengeful myself. If I stick around for the end and immerse myself into Dantès' redemption story, I may be redeemed myself. But what if I don't stick around for the end - or worse yet, what if the text were to end differently?

    What if I encounter a text in which the protagonist is not saved, but damned, by his decisions and dispositions? What if Lucas had written Star Wars such that it ended with Luke choosing the Dark Side, not the Light? THOSE NARRATIVES EXIST, and they can be BEAUTIFUL and EDIFYING, but they can destroy us if we follow your recipe for "mental visualization."

    You are quick to espouse a philosophy with potentially devastating ramifications of which you're blissfully unaware. Do not be so careless! Reading is a RELATIONSHIP between artist and audience. How we maneuver that relationship can be healthy or unhealthy (just like any relationship!).

    1. Will Hunter FriedmanOctober 7, 2014 at 9:18 AM

      Before I enter my rebuttal, thank you for reading and responding to my post!
      Now, to business.

      I understand your point. After re-reading my own post, I think that your point of view is completely legitimate and logical. I didn't address that, and that was my mistake. My defense for that is that this is the first time I have ever written a blog post. I am not used to have to explain thing that I have learned, and I miss things or think that they are self-evident, when they are only evident to me.

      In your response, you ask whether or not the "value always outweighs the costs." That is a very absolute statement, and the answer is "No." This technique sometime costs more than it is worth. I would challenge you, however, to find something that is always worth more than its costs. I don't believe such a thing exists.

      Mental Visualization is similar to that point when you are almost asleep but not quite. You don't know the last thing that happened, and you don't know how much time has passed. It is delicate. Having a mosquito land on you can be enough to "wake you up" and get out of the thought-process that is mental visualization.

      Mental visualization is also similar to a dream. After having a dream, even if it is about something violent, you do not all of a sudden become a violent person. It can affect you and make you think, but it does not necessarily change who you are. After watching Silence of the Lambs, I didn’t go on a killing spree. Once you are out of the headspace required for Mental Visualization, you revert to yourself.
      There is cause to be worried, however. Mental Visualization can be dangerous. It can be used as a jump off point for method acting. If method acting and Mental Visualization are used together, it can totally destroy someone’s sense of self. It would be extremely difficult to do both at once however.
      Thanks for reading! If you have any more questions, please ask me more questions!