Can We Read Objectively?

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The best reading experience is a critical as well as creative one. In critically interpreting the text a reader creatively reads it. By the very nature of language, any and every text is ambiguous, allowing for “correct” readings, misreadings, and layered readings. These readings, however, become slanted and biased when the narrator is not objective and allows their voice, their thoughts, feelings, or opinions to enter into the story, thereby controlling how the narrative is read and how the subject (think scholarly nonfiction) is perceived, and ultimately stands in judgment of the historical figures or the fictional characters. This leads to the reader being unable to read with an unaffected mind, free of outside influence, hence disabling a reading that is nonjudgmental and unbiased.

Even if the narrator does not insert his judgment or subjectivity into the narrative the reader quite often cannot help being influenced in their reading by the preface or introduction to a scholarly text by the writer (or editor) who did not pen the work itself or by its reviews. With the digital revolution and social media, book reviews are omnipresent, not just in highly esteemed newspapers, magazines, and peer-reviewed journals, and so readers are easily bombarded by readers’ judgments everywhere on the Internet, and not just on booksellers’ websites like Amazon and B&N, but on sites such as Goodreads and literary-minded blogs like my own. I will not go into how qualified (or unbiased) these readers may or may not be to offer the reviews they do, but I will say that online reviews by everyday readers are highly influential, and although they may not directly influence your interpretation of the text, they do have an impact on whether or not you purchase the book. I have purchased books based on glowing reviews and have steered clear of those that have received very caustic ones.

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And then there’s the book cover! The true art of selling a book is certainly in how you make a name for it with its covers. Back cover blurbs have aided me in making a decision about whether or not I should buy a book on many occasions, and I have and have not bought books based on the editorial summaries that appear on back covers and inside flaps. I have also bought books based on the beauty of their cover art (both hard cover and paperback editions) and have purchased books (or not) based on their titles. For those of you who are interested in self-publishing, titles are fundamentally important and so are subtitles, as they offer a starting point for the reader on the map of what they will be reading about (especially in scholarly works). I have been quite seduced by titles, subtitles, and back cover blurbs, but many have frightened me as well, and so whether for better or worse, I have run from them, never knowing if what is written on the pages within is as terrifying as the covers made the book out to be.

Key to marketing and selling anything is playing upon the consumer’s emotions, and these hotspots are easily manipulated by those who use language as a tool to accomplish their agendas, whether noble or malignant. In the case of publishers, the bottom line is that they are in business to make a profit, as are all companies, and they do this by selling books through any and all marketing and advertising avenues available to them, including blurbs by famous authors or celebrities or reviews by established critics, and by utilizing the power of language itself to play upon your thoughts and feelings.

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Alongside publishing’s traditional methods we have social media and book-centric blogs and websites that have become the new word of mouth—massive, powerful tools in globally raising or lowering the value of a book and its message. And so in the end an objective reader is hard to find, if not impossible, since in the hyper-connected global village that is soon to become a metropolis that we all live in we have no clear path to completely cutting ourselves off from the outside world. At any and all times someone or something somewhere is influencing us, even history and culture have very big hands in developing our perceptions and characters, and so objectivity is extremely difficult if not utterly impossible because we have become trapped in the growing web of a technologically advanced world whose threads are not always visible, clear, or benign.

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