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


Transcript of the Interview with Mark
Charles: Okay. First question, umm, do you enjoy reading? Do you like reading?
Mark: Yes.
C: How do you think that it’s… what do you like about reading, like, what do you enjoy?
M: Ummm… well, I mean I think… on the surface its entertainment… but I think it goes beyond , you know, television, or… or music in that I think it’s a much more active sort of format of entertainment… requires a lot more thought and introspection… I think at times I read fiction, for example, I’ll relate to a character and I think that’s part of the draw as well is to be able to… you know… to relate to characters in the book. When I’m reading non-fiction, I mean, a lot of it is for information because I want to learn about something or understand something.
C: Okay. I think you kind of covered what’s satisfying about it. In your own opinion, do you read fast?
M: I don’t think I’m a fast reader, I kind of think of myself as a slow reader. Umm… I’ll pick up the occasional piece of fiction that I’ll really get into and I’ll go through it in a few days or a week or something, but no, no I don’t think I’m an especially fast reader.
C: Do you ever reread? Either while you’re reading a book, like, do you go back and reread, or do you take a book say, that you’ve read before and you reread it again?
M: Yeah I do reread books that I’ve read before. In terms of going back while I’m reading something… if there’s maybe part of the plot that I’ve missed or something I’ll go back just to clarify something or if there’s a … you know, if the book is very… and they’re introducing a lot of characters and then you’re following the plot line and they keep mentioning a character, then I’ll go back to refresh my memory, you know, who is this character? Just to clarify who this person is. For the most part, no, I just… I read from beginning to end. But I do go back and reread certain books that I really like.
C: Okay. Do you ever skip sections?
M: No, if it’s any sort of a… linear story or even non-fiction… collected essays or short stories or something like that then I’ll go through and be selective about what I read. But for the most part I don’t like to skip while I read… I read cover to cover.
C: Is there anything that would make you… is there a reason why you would stop something that you’d started? Like, stop reading?
M: Yeah, I mean… I’ve got a few things on my shelf that still have a book mark in them… part of the way through that I’ve said, “oh, I’ll go back to that at some point.” I just wasn’t into it at the time… Umm… there’s things that I’ve started reading and just put down altogether, said “I’m done.” More non-fiction. something, I start reading it and it’s… either I don’t feel that it’s well written or, you know, the author just seems to be reiterating the same point over and over through the book. Yeah, not very often… I have to really be not into it or it has to be really terrible to just put it down and say “I’m not going to pick this up again.”
C: So… you mentioned that you read non-fiction. Do you read other things for the sake of information? Strictly for finding something out?
M: Umm… yeah. I mean, I’ve read technical manuals for work. I’ve read things on my trade. I’ll read architectural or design magazines… umm… I’m trying to think what else… the odd computer manual.
C: Do you ever read multiple things at one time?
M: Yeah, I’ve usually got at least two books on the go. A lot of the time that’ll be a fiction and a non-fiction. Just, you know, I get into bed at night and I’m not focused I don’t want to be reading non-fiction. And yeah, sometimes more, right now I’ve got… I think three or four on the go at the moment. I didn’t used to, it’s only been in the last few years that I started reading more than one book at a time. (laughing) Maybe my attention span is getting shorter.
C: What kind of atmosphere are you looking for? What do you prefer to be going on around you when you read?
M: The ideal for me is probably at home with music on… fairly low… something, you know, mellow… and something I’ve hear a lot of times, something that’s been in my collection for a long time that doesn’t distract me, it’s just background noise. I mean, I won’t buy a CD and sit down and try to read a book cause I’m too involved in what I’m listening to. yeah, probably at home. Umm… I read in bed. At night when I go to bed I’ll read for twenty minutes or half an hour. Umm… we talked about trying to read at work, if there’s a lot going on around me or something like that I find… I have difficulty focusing on it. Occasionally, I’ll go read and I’ll go for a coffee and read a little bit, but it’s kind of the same thing, there’s stuff going on and people coming and going and I tend to be distracted.
C: Do you… can you read when other people are in the room? Can you read or do you enjoy reading when other people are around?
M: I can. You know. And again… if, you know, somebody else sitting in bed next to me reading, obviously, you know, or doing something else. but I mean somebody in the room watching TV or something like I said being out somewhere and there’s a lot of people talking… it’s a little more difficult… I can still do it, but I find I don’t enjoy it as much. It takes that much more concentration. Not as relaxing, I guess.
C: What is a “good” reader? Do you think of yourself as a “good” reader?
M: How do you define good?
C: I don’t know. How do you define good? Do you think that there’s some quality that a good reader has?
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. And, I guess, someone who reads. You know, to read and have it be something that you do.
C: Do you think of yourself in that category?
M: I guess somewhat… I’d like to be able to sort of engage the work more than I do sometimes. I find that I’m a little more passive or I’m just kind of reading the words and not always thinking about what I’m reading, so I try to be focused on what I’m doing, which is, again, goes back to not wanting to do it when there’s other stuff going on. To really sort of, be connected to what I’m reading and get the most out of it. So, you know, I’d like to be better at it than I am.
C: Are you interested in other sorts of texts, or other kinds of mediums? I’m thinking like graphic novels, or…
M: Yeah, I’m actually reading a graphic novel right now. It’s…umm… it’s not very often because I think there’s a lot of that stuff to wade through to find the really good pieces. so the stuff I have read is generally something that has been recommended by somebody else. The one I’m reading right now is “The Watchman,” I read… umm… you know, Batman, “Dark Knight Returns” a few years ago. I read “Maus.” I guess that would be… which was fantastic. So, yeah, I do, I’m certainly open to reading stuff like that. Like I said, I don’t know a lot about it, I’m not really in the know about that kind of stuff. So, you know, I don’t read it all that often. But I do enjoy it when I read it.
C: Do you ever… do you think of reading as being more intellectual or more stimulating than other kinds of popular culture? I mean, you mentioned before that of course, there’s the entertainment value but is there something more?
M: Absolutely, yeah. 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 and, you know. Whereas, like I said, a movie is really presented to you. Yeah, and it’s definitely… yeah, and there’s something else about it. I don’t… I don’t really know what that is. There’s just something about reading that is just different. I don’t know what that is. I’m sure people have written about it and talked about it, and you know…
C: If you were given say… umm… the novel, the movie of the novel, or the novel of the movie, I mean, I guess which would you be most interested in choosing?
M: Umm…
C: You know it’s the same story, but what kinds of decisions would you make how you’re going to experience that story?
M: Well… I mean… I really love movies and I love books to. I mean if… a movie comes out that is based on a book I will generally try to read the book first. Just because once I’ve seen the movie, you know, it’s impossible not to picture those actors as the characters and there’s always this comparison happening while you’re reading the book. “This isn’t the way it happened in the movie,” or “This is somewhere where the film deviated”… things like that. In terms of a preference, I guess I would have to say I would prefer to read the book and certainly with the option of both I would prefer to read the book first.
C: What kind of reading did you do when you were young? When you were a child, when you were a teenager… what kinds of things were you interested in?
M: When I was quite young… Dr. Seuss. As I got older… you know, we had a set of Hardy Boys books, just ‘cause I had older brothers, so I would read some of those. Actually, non-fiction as well, I was interested in reading non-fiction as a kid as well. My parents got a sort of “kids”… well not really encyclopedias but it was sort of a 14 or 15 volume set of books and each one was dedicated to something different. so it would have been like an encyclopedia, but one was about space, one was about dogs, and things like that. they were fairly large hardcover books, there were lots of pictures, but… so, I’ve never thought about that but that might be where my interest in non-fiction came from to some extent. Umm… comic books, as I got older and into my teens, I would read comic books, manuals for role playing games, umm…
C: Were you read to, did you parents read to you? Do you remember a time when you were read to a lot?
M: Yeah, very rarely though. I remember enjoying when it did happen. It wasn’t an every night kind of thing. When it happened I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t a big deal.
C: Did you read more when you were younger? Did you read less?
M: Less. Much less. I didn’t really start getting into reading until… probably until high school. When I started doing high school English. Actually, I think it was probably “Lord of the Flies,” that really turned me onto reading. when we read that in school. And I remember just being… just thinking that it was a fantastic book, and I think that was when I really… sort of… started thinking about other books that were out there and started actively buying books and reading them and things like that. Yeah, there was a definitely a gap between the comic books and starting to read novels… and I would say there was a fair gap between reading the kids books and comic books. it kind of came in spurts. My love of reading wasn’t really until high school.
C: Did you get books as presents or did your parents buy you books?
M: My parents must have belonged to a kid’s book club, because that set of encyclopedias was one of them and there were some other ones that came… oh, actually, when I was a kid too, there was the “Choose Your Own Adventures.” I got fairly into those. And there was also a series of horror books for sort of young adult novels, would have been around the same time as the “Choose Your Own Adventures”. There was a whole series of those, so I was into those as well. But yeah, they must have belonged to a book club cause there was a book that would come every month or every couple of months or something.
C: When you read, do you take any kind of notes? Mental or otherwise?
M: I kind of take mental notes. I’ll take mental notes especially if I’m reading non-fiction that may reference other books, then I’ll go, “Oh, I should read that,” or “I’d like to look into this book and see what it’s about.” and certainly, there are things that strike me, when I’m reading. As far as taking notes, no, not really. I mean, I should, because I have a terrible memory, so I… sometimes I think about it, but it’s kind of, but it starts to feel like work (laughing). You know, it starts to feel like I’m in school. So, while it’s something that I like to do actively, at the same time it’s something that I’m doing for enjoyment, as well, even if it’s non-fiction. I’m still reading for the enjoyment of reading, so if you take notes… yeah, no, not really.
C: How do you find what you read?
M: A lot of times for fiction its recommendations from other people. Again there’s… well in terms of newer fiction a lot of the time it’s recommendations from other people. Classics… you know… those I’ll pick up. In terms of the non-fiction, I’ll hear something about the book or read something about the book. I suppose too, a book can be written about in the newspaper or talked about on TV, you know, you see an interview with the author or something like that, my interest can be piqued that way. Like I said, with the non-fiction, if they’re referencing other materials… there’s something that I’m reading right now because it was mentioned in another book. And sometimes it’s just going into a store and seeing what’s there. That’s usually with non-fiction. It’s harder to gauge with fiction, whether the book is going to be any good. But with non-fiction, I can walk by and look at something and be interested by the subject matter, and pick it up that way.
C: Is there a genre that you like? A particular kind of story that you’re interested in?
M: I don’t know… In terms of fiction I don’t know how to classify… I like stuff that’s very sort of human, stuff that’s about, you know, people’s relationships… It’s tough for me to pick out… because I don’t read mysteries or I don’t read spy novels or stuff like that. I mean, I like stuff that’s making some comment on the human experience and on sort of on relationships, our interactions with people, and maybe the things that we do and why we do them. In terms of a genre in non-fiction, I like reading a lot of cultural studies. I mean… you know, there’s a lot of non-fiction these days about the science of this, the science of that, entire books written on one particular, very narrow subject, so those things’ll kind of interest me, just ‘cause, you know, is there really that much to tell? It almost always piques your interest that way. Example, there’s the book “Salt,” somebody wrote this whole book about salt, and I knew before that it had been used as a trading commodity and things like that, but it interests you when you see a whole book written about this everyday thing that you completely take for granted. Non-fiction, it’s really what piques my interest, you know. I’ll see something and go, “Wow, I’d like to know more about that,” or, “this book sounds really cool,” or whatever. Yeah, probably a lot of sort of cultural or light science type things. History not as much. I find reading history can be a little dry for me at times. I’m having a little trouble getting through “Salt” because of that. At times it’s very interesting, at times I’m completely blown away, and at other times it’s like, it’s a lot of dates and places and things like that. Can be dry. I suppose, yeah, things that give me a better understanding of the culture that we live in or other cultures.
C: Okay, I’m going to get you to read a monologue from a Sarah Kane play. I’ll just let you read that to yourself and we’ll talk about it briefly after…
(Reading a monologue from “Crave” by Sarah Kane. See Appendix A for the complete text.)
M: Wow.
C: What did you think of it? What were your thoughts?
M: The first thing I noticed was that there’s no punctuation. It’s basically one long sentence. Yeah… it’s a powerful piece.
C: Were there lines that you felt strongly about? That stick out for you?
M: There was… it created a lot of images in my head. The one that I’m thinking of off the top of my head is, “sitting on the porch and smoking ‘til your neighbour comes home, sitting on the porch and smoking until you come home.” “Waking you up at three in the morning to make love.” The first line was kind of “playing hide-and-seek,” my first impression when I read that line was that this was gonna be a child, but of course as I got a few lines into it, it was obvious that this wasn’t a child. And the part about rejection as well. “How could you think that I’m rejecting you?” As you’re reading you realize that it’s this sort of pouring out of their heart and talking about this unconditional love that they feel for this person and so the whole thing struck me that way.
C: Did you have a belief about the character’s gender?
M: It’s hard to say, because I know the book is written by a woman. But she talks about, this person talks about kissing her lover’s breasts… instinctively, it sounds female, to me. the character who’s speaking sounds female, yeah, it never came across that it was a male character to me. Right off the bat, it was a female character. Kissing of the breasts, it didn’t make me think…I mean, I thought for a second that it was a man, but then I immediately rejected it. It just didn’t, to me, feel like a male character, there was something very female about it.
C: Did you have an idea of… did you hear a voice?
M: Yeah.
C: And that was a woman’s voice then, obviously…
M: Yeah.
C: The fact that you knew that this was a play, did that have any effect on the way that you read it?
M: Yeah, it probably would have. The fact that it was a monologue, you said it was a monologue… there’s something very important begin said here. This is not just banter on stage, this is a monologue so there’s… yeah, I mean, I did, there was a point where I got the image of a woman standing on stage and presenting this thing as a play.
C: Okay, there’s something else by Sarah Kane, I’ll get you to read here…
(Reading a section of “Psychosis 4.48” by Sarah Kane. See Appendix B for the complete text.)
C: So what is your initial reaction to that one?
M: It’s a lot darker. Yeah, it had a very different tone to it, obviously. I mean, my impression of it is that it’s about this person that she loves that she’s never met, will never meet, sort of this, whether it’s an ideal, or this person that she imagines she wants or loves or needs.
C: If you had to say that you liked one or the other, which would you say you liked better?
M: I preferred the first.
C: What kinds of things did you prefer about it?
M: I think the second being poetry, umm… I wouldn’t say that I dislike poetry, but I would say that I prefer the prose more. Yeah, I don’t know…
C: That’s fair enough…
M: Yeah, the second one was just depressing, you know, it was, there was no sort of hope or redemption or anything like that. Somewhat more veiled, I guess, like it’s… the monologue it’s very much out there, you know. It’s like spoken exactly what the person is feeling. Whereas the poetry, I think sort of dances around it a little bit, it’s a little less straight forward.
C: Thanks. Thanks very much. We’ll move onto something a little different. How does you work affect either the things that you read, or… do you think that your work has an affect on the things that you read or the way that you read?
M: No. Other than reading the odd technical thing for work… the fact that I have to get up really early (laughing). No, I wouldn’t say so. I don’t think my reading habits are different now with this job, with what I’m doing for a living than they have been… Well, I mean, I suppose when I was working at Wee Book Inn and I could read while I was working that had an affect on… but no, overall, I wouldn’t really say so.
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) Yeah, I mean… 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.
C: So, there are people at work who read. Who are readers.
M: Yeah, for sure.
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. I doubt that they’re reading a whole lot of poetry, plays… umm… you know, the types of fiction that I like to read, but I… no, I wouldn’t say there’s a common thread running through that we all like to read. I think I said was biography that there seems to be more than a few of them that enjoy reading biographies.
C: Is you impression that there’s some sort of “normal” reader out there? Beyond work, is there a “normal” way for people to read?
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. I just think that there’s a target audience that these books find, you know. Actually, my boss at work lent me the “Da Vinci Code.” Reluctantly I read it. Felt that it was poorly written, not terribly engaging, predictable, and the concept wasn’t really anything new, because it was all taken from “Holy Blood and the Holy Grail” which was written 10 or 15 years ago. And, you know, this is one of the biggest books of all time, so to me that says, I guess, that I’m not a “normal” reader. What the other, whatever percentile enjoys reading, is not what I enjoy reading. You know, and I think that, probably yeah, if I were to give them some of the books I read they would probably be like… you know, not enjoy it at all, right. Possibly more based on subject matter or maybe the way that the book is written, or it’s dark, or it’s dense or it’s whatever. So yeah, I guess in that regard, based on what’s popular, no, I wouldn’t say I’m a “normal” reader.
C: Was there anything that I asked you during this interview that made you irritated or angry?
M: No. I don’t think so.
C: Okay.
M: Were you trying to irritate me? (laughing)
C: No. The only one’s I was worried about were the ones about childhood… umm… Do you ever think about the way you look while you’re reading? And connected to that, was it strange to have me sitting here, ‘cause you said you prefer being alone…
M: Umm… No, I mean, if anything I think it reflects well on me. I mean, to be out somewhere and reading having a coffee or read at work. I mean, certainly it … I think it creates a perception for people that you’re, that there’s a particular level of intelligence there or something if you’re reading, and that may be just my perception to equate intelligence with reading. ‘Cause obviously, you know, there’s intelligent people who don’t read, and not-so-bright people who are voracious readers. But yeah, I think that it, I don’t have a problem being seen reading, and like I said, if anything that it sheds a positive light… and certainly if I see somebody else reading, that’s… again… that’s something for me that, you know, I see as a positive.
C: Well thanks very much. I think that’s all the questions I have. We’re done.