On reading comprehension

There are so many posts online claiming that decent reading comprehension and critical thinking would cause a reader to interpret all sorts of things into writing that were never intended to be there, and would also cause them to have a negative opinion of any book they read.

But in my experience, and with the many bad reviews I have read, and annoying discussions I have participated in, only show that in most cases, the opposite is true. The amount of nonsense people read into books, and false claims they make while discussing them beggars all belief.

I have read numerous reviews that describe and criticize things that never appeared in the books in meticulous detail. I have argued with people whose interpretation of the author’s intentions and the characters’ actions are so unfounded that it makes one wonder if they have ever learned to read or think. I have seen people run down books based on aspects of them they have made up themselves.

And it’s not only a matter of (a lack of) formal education—many people who act as though being an English major were somehow their identity can hardly understand even a simple text. And reading is, after all is (and should be!) a widespread interest, and accessible and available for everyone.

The real problem lies with the individual approach to reading, the way many readers decide what would happen in a book beforehand, and the arrogant conviction that one could break down an individual literary work into a simple set of tropes, upon which to decide whether a book is good or bad, problematic or not.

And people often find exactly what they are convinced to dislike in a book, and, given the chance, often choose the most negative interpretation.

And because of all this, actually learning to read properly is important. Not only to know when a blue curtain means depression, but also when it doesn’t, and not only to know when a story is terrible and problematic, but also when it isn’t, and not only to know that when a pleasant story is actually only shallow and stupid, but also when it actually is good.

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