Ralph Waldo Emerson on Reading

"One must be an inventor to read well.  There is then creative reading, as well as creative writing."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

It's no secret I love reading.  One of the many reasons I believe reading to be so valuable is that it requires imagination.  Writing a book requires a tremendous amount of imagination, but I think sometimes we forget that there is imagination involved in reading a book, too.

What if all you "saw" when you read a book were the words on the page?  What if all you heard was the turn of the pages or the "click" of a button on your eReader?  What if all you felt was the book (or eReader!) in your hand?  Now, I'm not knocking the feel of pages beneath your fingers or the pleasant way a book smells.  No way!  Those are great sensations.  But...

When you read a book, you picture the characters in your mind.  You "see" what they look like, you "observe" their actions.  You "hear" their voices and their conversations.  When a character mentions the aroma of fresh baked bread or the smell of the air after a warm summer rain, you "smell" those things as well.

It's because reading requires imagination.  Words, books, stories... they come alive in your mind because of your imagination.  Thanks to imagination, you not only read books... you EXPERIENCE them.

Reading calls on all of us to use our minds and our senses.  It's possibly the most interactive form of entertainment on the planet.

Ralph Waldo Emerson had it right... there really IS creative reading, as well as creative writing.

How do you experience a book?  I'd love to hear about it!

Happy reading and writing everyone!


  1. Absolutely! Reading is so much better than watching a movie, even, because I can use my imagination. Of course, as you say, it's not just seeing the scenes, but feeling what the characters are feeling. (I'm kind of into emotional reads. ) So, I want to know what they smell, touch, hear, see, and taste. I want to be in the head of the characters (one POV per scene, please) and to feel like I'm part of the story/scene.

    Thanks, Amy! Good blog topic!


  2. Reading really is such a sensory activity. But sometimes in today's immediate gratification world, it's difficult to convince some readers to slow down and enjoy the smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and textures an author creates in a good read.

    Great post, Amy

  3. You know what's sad? I actually like the smell of dusty books. There's nothing better than walking into a used book store and being baraged by 5 million different scents. Yes, I read mostly on my e-reader now, and I do think a certain aspect of the experience has been lost. I think the ebook writers have a harder time, now, connecting with readers because they don't slow down enough to enjoy the experience, like Cherie said.
    I know scent is the most closely connected to memory, and I can almost guarantee I will always love dirty old books.

  4. I love the way books smell! Old books... new books... love it. And I read mostly on an ereader now as well, but I'll never give up print books completely! I think the harried and busy pace of our lives these days contributes a lot to people not being able to really slow down and savor a book and all it contains. For me, even though I do love print books, I have found the ereading experience to be the same for me... because my mind is still engaged in the same way. I hope other digital readers can maintain that as well!

  5. Amy:
    I'm like you. I love to immerse myself into the reading as much as I love to do the same when I'm writing.
    When we were traveling from post to post when Daddy was in the service, reading was my most precious experience. It filled loneliness and took me away from moments when I wasn't happy.
    Thank God I learned to read!!
    Teresa R.