Seeing What You Read

So last week I was finally spending some time really going through my Google Reader, which at been at 1,000+ posts for at least a week – seriously people, there were posts from before the Readathon in there!

Anyway, while I was reading, I came across a book review by Natalie of Book, Line, and Sinker of a book I really enjoyed, “Between Friends” by Kristy Kiernan. It seemed that one of Natalie’s biggest issues with the book was that she wasn’t able to get a good feel for the characters, partly because the author did not describe their physical appearance adequately. Natalie says:

As a reader, I like to visualize characters but had trouble doing so with this novel because physical description of many of the main characters is spartan or introduced too far into the book.  I never fully connected with Ali because I couldn’t get a bead on her appearance.

Now, this wasn’t a problem for me at ALL, but it did get me thinking. In fact, I’ve been thinking about Natalie’s review and what it means about the different ways that people read for over a week now.  I pay pretty much no attention at all to an author’s description of physical characteristics. I pay slightly more attention to landscape details, but still not a whole lot, if they’re sort of mentioned in passing.

For instance, when I first saw the “Harry Potter” movies, I was shocked to see Malfoy with blond hair. Shocked. I saw him as this dark, creepy character, blonde hair was not in the picture at all. Of course, when I went back and reread the book and, sure enough, Malfoy has blond hair. Huh.

So it isn’t exactly that I don’t picture the characters of a book in my head, but I don’t do it explicitly, and I don’t necessarily use the author’s descriptions to do it. Instead, I tend to build up a mental image of the character just from some of their personality traits (which is sort of weird, I guess, but that’s what I do).

But now I’m really curious about how others read, whether you need to be able to picture characters to feel connected to them, whether you explicitly picture them at all. Simply put, do you have to be able to picture what you’re reading?

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