How do you read?

So last week, Emily and Ted and I were sitting around talking, and Emily said something about the radio drama in her head while she was reading. Ted said, “You only get a radio drama?” and she said, “Oh, no, I get pictures, too.”

Now, Ted has said this before, but I always thought he was exaggerating, so it sort of threw me, and I said, “You really see *pictures* while you’re reading?” And they both insisted that yes, they did. Rather like being the camera in a movie, in fact.

It took me rather some time to believe them. I don’t *get* pictures in my head when I’m reading. If I think back on a scene, I can see it play out, but it doesn’t play out in my head while I’m reading it. Nor does it play out in my head while I’m writing it. I have, at best, stills. I can call images and scenes up, but they don’t naturally play out in my head.

So we went to my parents’ house and asked them, because this was so fascinating and weird to all three of us (for me, that they see pictures; for them, that I don’t!). My parents don’t see pictures when they read.

Ted’s parents and brother do.

Shaun does.

Ellen does.

The random waitress we asked at Tony Roma’s does.

Do *you*?

And, corollary to that: if I tell you to think of, oh, Tom Cruise, do you see a 3-D sort of image of him in your mind? Or a photograph? Or… what? I *can* call up an image in my mind, but I can’t hold it. I *know* what Tom Cruise looks like, but I don’t *see* it. So… what happens when you, my gentle readers, read?

Further corollary, for writers: what happens to you when you’re writing? Do you see what’s happening, or do you … *know* what’s happening (I more or less do), or do you (struggle to?) hold images in your head to describe them (I do), or something else entirely?

Third corollary (I’ve just learned how to spell corollary and I’m very excited about it, can you tell?): how fast do you read? We’ve determined thus far that the seeing pictures aspect isn’t, as we thought it might be, related to reading speed, as Dad, who reads slowly, doesn’t see pictures, and Ellen and Ted, who read very fast, do, and Shaun and Emily, who read slowly, do, and Mom and I, who read very fast indeed, don’t. But I’m curious anyway!

Please! Discuss! :)

10 thoughts on “How do you read?

  1. I saw images and scenes from Giving Thanks while I was writing it. One of the very clear ones that I can /still/ see is the image of the stacks at the top of the spiral cast iron staircase with the ghostly image of Marian at the top.

    When I’m reading, I will see images or scenes play out in my head as I read. One of the things that constantly takes my breath away in the LotR movies is how the images on the screen could have been lifted right out of my head. (Though, some of that at least is the result of hindsight, some is not.)

    Hm. Trying to picture Tom Cruise. I can see his smile, and his nose. His skin tone. But not the entirety of the image.

    I’d say that I read medium-fast. Which is to say, fast for just about anyone I ever knew until I met all those damned internet folks who are much faster readers than me. :)

  2. I do read very fast (and often not very thoroughly, which is one reason I reread a lot.) I do not see pictures in my head when I read (but I do when I write — moving pictures, at that.) I do hear the voices. I hear voices when I’m not reading, too, but that’s another issue entirely…


  3. I am a very visual person.

    That said, I don’t often see scenes when I’m *reading*.

    However, when I’m *writing*? Hoo boy and yes I see pictures. I always see pictures, and more to the point, moving pictures, when I write. I play the scenes out in my head and then write them down on paper. This is part of the reason why I get frustrated with writing, because it never comes out as smoothly in the written word as it does ‘on film’.

    As for reading speed, I’m … probably about average. I love to read. I just have to make time to do it.

  4. I read very quickly, more quickly than most anyone I know. (As evidence, the number of books I read every year is close to, maybe a little more than Catie, since she and I both keep a running tally. The difference may be accounted for by commuting time, etc.). I do not get a movie in my head, although occasionally I get still photo images. It partly depends on the quality of the material that I’m reading.

    As to Tom Cruise (or anyone/thing else), I can call up a brief image, but it doesn’t really stay. I can describe the elements of the description; I know *what* it looks like, but I don’t *see* it very well. It’s actually something I’ve been working on – improving visualization skills.

  5. I too am in the “no pictures” camp. Voices, sometimes. Stills, rarely (for some writers more than others), but no movies when I read. It’s more like the concepts in the book have a direct line to my brain, getting expressed directly as an idea without going through the visual processors first.

    As for Tom Cruise, it’s funny. I DO work on visualization as part of meditation, so if I try hard, I can see him in pretty excruciating detail. However, if I just think about him without trying hard, I get only a vague flash of Cruiseness that then goes away.

    I read really bloody fast, at least in books without charts (epidemiology texts take longer because there’s a lot of math mixed in with the words).

  6. I can picture Tom Cruise, although I would rather not. I can also picture only parts of his face if I only have a fleeting thought of him.
    I think different voices when I am reading, and I also see moving pictures at the same time. BUT it also depends entirely on WHAT I am reading. Example: When I read your copy of Clive Barker’s Thief of Always, and Weaveworld I had voices and pictures, but when I read his Imajica, I only had pictures in parts and voices in parts. As far as how fast I read… I really have no idea. I know I read MUCH slower than I used to as a child, but I think that is because I actually read the entire page rather than skimming, as my father does, and getting the jist of the story. I enjoy the details immensely, especially when I read goodgood stories, such as the one you loosely based on us as kids.
    Ummm… and I rarely read poetry, as I much more enjoy quotes or poetry stories. Unless it is Poe’s ‘The Raven’ – which despite my love for Ravens, is a poem I can no longer stand hearing. I guess it is too played out for me, like ice cream and popcorn. (unless I have a craving!)
    Too much??? I could go on… ;)

  7. I read really, really fast. I see pictures when I read, and when I write, and I don’t usually know what’s going to happen when I’m writing something unless I’m specifically leading up to a pre-destined event sort of thing or re-writing something. And even then, I don’t really know what will happen. It’s sometimes different the second time around, you know.

  8. I read absurdly fast if i’m relaxed. And I can’t remember the last time I saw any type of image in my head associated with reading.

    As for Mssr. Cruise, if I think about it I ‘know’ what he looks like, but i can’t get a good picture at all — and mostly it’s a composite knowledge of him from Risky Business and Top Gun – sort of a half-profile smirk.

    I wonder what the images would be like, seeing as I’ve just finished mopping up the latest Terry Pratchett.

    p.s. Merry Belated, Catie. Say hi to your sis and dad for me (oh, and Ted, if he remembers me..)

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