A Case Study of a Reader: Mark

by Charles Wood

This web site was created to fulfill the requirements of the Capping Exercise (LIS 600) at the School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta. The paper was originally written for LIS 580, Contemporary Theories and Practices of Reading. The site was last updated July 14, 2006.

Introduction Reading Typologies "Normal" Reading Conclusion References Transcript

"Normal" Reading

Part of the reason that I was interested in interviewing Mark in the first places was because he is an avid reader working in the trades. The trades are not generally conceived of as an occupation that encourages avid readership. Previous conversations with Mark about reading had encouraged this perception, and his initial reaction to my question about it also encouraged it:

C: Is there a quote “normal” kind of reading or reader in the trades, as a tradesperson?
M: Trick there is finding one who does read. (laughing)

However, Mark then modifies and enhances his answer:

M: … I shouldn’t say that, that’s not fair… a couple of the people who I work with don’t read at all. Certainly none of them… there’s no similar interests for myself and them, with what they read. And I suppose no real common thread, and I mean, they would probably say the same thing about the rest of us. You know, one of them really likes reading true crimes and mysteries, some biographies, another one is a bit of a history buff, and probably a little bit biographies and some non-fiction. One of them would read popular fiction and some biography as well, but not… none of the fiction is really stuff that would interest me.

He describes the reading habits of his co-workers, and demonstrates how reading, even traditional concepts of reading books, play an important part in the life of a number of his co-workers. He identifies the range of types of books that his co-workers read, as well as the fact that at least some don’t, to his knowledge, read at all.

He concludes though, that in his opinion, there is no “normal” type of reader in the trades. While he doesn’t see himself as the norm, neither does he really see anyone else in his workplace as exemplifying a “normal” reader. However he specifically mentions that the types of reading done by his co-workers would likely be different from that done by a group of University students:

C: Would you say then that there isn’t a “normal” or “norm” for reading where you work?
M: No. I wouldn’t say so. I mean, certainly, if you were to take that group and compare it to say, your class, you might see fairly distinct differences in what’s being read.

In this instance, he’s perceiving a “normal” type of reading in a University setting that is different from the type of “normal” that occurs in the trades. For one thing, this demonstrates that, in spite of what he says, Mark accepts to a certain extent the idea that there is a “norm.” However, his description of the types of things that people in his workplace read is not significantly different from what one might expect a University class to read. On looking at the types of books that are read by Mark’s co-workers for enjoyment, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the same things read for pleasure by University students. However, as Robert Wright points out, University students may not be the most active reading community, as “… ‘required’ reading for classes diminished their interest in reading ‘for fun’” (127). It might be possible then that, in fact, more reading for entertainment is done in the trades than it is at University. Of course, this also might be what Mark alludes to when he perceives a “normal” type of reading at University. The “normal” reading done at a University level is generally efferent and not done for enjoyment, unlike the reading done in the trades.

In addition, Mark perceives a “normal” reader in the wider society, though he does not place himself in the same community as readers that he sees as “normal”:

M: I mean, I think there’s the books that become popular, you know. I think there’s the Oprah’s book club reader, you know. I don’t necessarily think that the things that are on the bestsellers list are really the best books out there.

A curious feature of Mark’s attitude toward reading is both the importance and slightly “mystical” nature of reading, and the fairly stringent criteria he places on a “good” reader. He describes in practical detail the value of reading, but also states that “… there’s something about reading that is just different. I don’t know what it is. I’m sure people have written about it and talked about it, […].” The value of an “active” approach is apparent in how Mark describes a “good” reader:

M: I mean… I guess… it would be somebody who really connects to what they’re reading or really sort of engages it and thinks about it, does it very actively rather than passively. You know, it’s very easy and not really… and, you know, you follow the story and whatever but you’re not really paying attention. I guess a good reader is someone who analyses what they’re reading and thinks about it, and maybe thinks about it while they’re not reading it as well, you know, doing something else and thinking about what they read.

Further, the importance of an active approach is also apparent in the value that Mark places on reading as a whole:

M: […] I would definitely put it, you know, put it above, you know, television or movies or things like that. I just think that there’s… It’s just so much more active to read… just mentally it’s a much more active thing. When you’re watching a movie or something I mean everything is really presented for you, not to say that you’re not watching and analysing and doing those things with a movie, but I think in the book there’s so much more is left to the imagination so it’s completely up to you to create this entire world that this author is talking about […]