February 11, 2022 | LIFE | By Kristen Richards

The physical act of writing is simply looping together lines to create meaning, which only makes sense because we have been taught that letters look a certain way and words are made up of those letters. Reading puts the words into pictures for us to visualize as we navigate our way through a story.

I fight this existential thought daily; written words are some of the most utilized tools of communication and without being taught that these odd combinations of lines and letters are words, the essence of reading would not exist. Written words convey the feeling evoked in our words when we speak.

Sometimes I think about how I viewed the world before I knew how to read, write, or speak. I imagine the world was put together through objects with purpose and color that differentiated things from one another, rather than written words.

I’m a poet, so poetic forms of writing are most impactful for me, but every kind of writing gives the reader something distinct and fulfilling. In poetry, reading becomes a kind of music and a kind of dance. The translation of word to sound is especially present in poetry that focuses highly on a rhyme scene, assonance, consonance, or alliteration. Sometimes even the shape of a poem can bring meaning to the words.

For me, the words dance on the page in a way that could signify that I need glasses, or that I am deeply in love with what I am reading. The same sentence could be written and read in dozens of different ways. Reading is more than an activity: it is power.

Reading fiction is the most magical transport to a new world. Reading fiction is an act of forgetting what we consider the “real” world and surrendering to this life that the mind has built around an author’s words.

There is a fascination in fiction that I don’t think any movie or TV show could convey.

I am an English major, not a STEM major, so I cannot speak to anatomical happenings in this process. I conceptualize it like this: in reading, our brains are mapping out the words to create a picture in our minds. Watching a show is seeing the picture that our mind makes for us when we are reading.

Non-fiction is similar to fiction in the ways we read it, but it does seem a bit closer to reality than its fictitious counterpart.

Reading non-fiction is like peeking into someone else’s story, by seeing what they have allowed you to see. Reading is the vehicle with which we can understand someone else’s life and experiences.

If I was more interested in science than writing, I would explore why reading feels like dreaming and how staring at the page in a book can create the shape of a whole new world. What is going on in my brain when that happens?

All I know is the feeling. That one sentence can make me feel the greatest joy, and the next can be crushing devastation. What control an author has – to create a landscape that allows the reader to jump from emotion to emotion, thought to thought.

Here’s one last thought to keep your existential crisis going: what happens when we finish reading everything that there is to read? What happens when we tell all the stories there are to tell? What do we do when every poem has been written?

This will never happen, not in our lifetime or anyone else’s. There is no possibility that every combination of words will have been written. But this is what words allow us to do: ponder their very existence.

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