Boundaries of reading

March 20, 2022

I haven't ever had any trouble to locate the gate indicated on my boarding pass. I have no difficulties in detecting where and when will happen the event announced on an invite received by email. Reading has always been an easy task. Since I was able to relate a set of letters to a word, I considered reading an acquired skill.

That certificate of acquired skill started to melt down when I read the following piece in the book Several Short Sentences About Writing:

Do you remember, in school, going around the room, each student in turn reading a paragraph out loud? Remember how well some students read and others, how badly? It was a difference in comprehension, not of the sentence's meaning, but of its texture, pace, structure, actuality.

Yes, I must confess that I remember. I always asked God that, on my turn, the paragraph was short - so the public exposition and the possibility of mistake would be minimal. At that time, I could relate pace to lots of things, except sentences. My concept of reading was limited to group words and extract some meaning from them. I respected the spaces rigorously, still not noticing that the time of each pause was very relative.

Reading that way is like being able to identify correctly all the notes of a song, but not necessarily to be able to execute them in the right rhythm - and if you already heard someone clapping against the melody stream, you know how much rhythm matters.

The doubt that the boundaries of my reading were very tight became certainty over the initial pages of As intermitências da morte - published in English as Death with interruptions. After needing to reread the sentences so many times to fully understand them, I questioned myself if such difficulty should be called functional illiteracy. You can't read José Saramago if you can't get into the rhythm he imposes on the prose. The same idea stretches for lots of commas. It's not rare that you have forgotten the subject when you reach the predicate. Readings like these demand such intellectual vigor that no advertisement, traffic sign or text message have ever required from me. It was necessary to read the first half of the book to become fluent in Portuguese again.

I finished the book convinced that reading isn't a skill one acquires, but a skill one cultivates.

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