I CAN’T EVEN STOP SMILING RIGHT NOW. I have Elm, THE Elm, on my blog today. I’m still not sure that this is really happening. Since I first found her about a year ago, she has been one of my biggest blogging idols, and now her writing is going to be on MY blog! Elm is a 17 year old blind lifestyle blogger, self proclaimed rebel, singer, writer, talker (I hope lol) and, most importantly today, reader. It may seem strange to some people, a blind reader, which is exactly why the post that you’re about to read is so special.
“Reading”, by Elm
As a child, I was a voracious reader. Similarly to any other bookworm, I was lost in the stories and characters of authors who spun their tales to be understandable to a younger audience. I’d spend hours pouring over a good book, delighted and enthralled in equal measure. That feeling sounds familiar to anyone who loves to read.
However, I have never read a paperback or hardback book. I have never browsed the shelves, looking for a good title in my local library. Why, you may ask? I’m visually impaired, registered as blind; I read in braille or through audio books. It’s all I’ve ever known or will know: does that mean my experience is somehow separate, apart from those who read so-called “conventional” or paper books?
Braille books are, ordinarily, huge. I used to get them from the RNIB Library in bags, 3-5 volumes for each book. As a little girl, I could sometimes barely lift them: I’d heave them onto my knee and whenever they came in the post, I’d shriek with excitement. I used to sit in a little chair beside the CD player, listening to my favourite books that I got from the limited selection in my local library or, for my birthday or Christmas, bought from Waterstones. That, instead of computers or the TV, was what truly interested me. It was different, yet it was my world.
Now, instead of ordering from the library, I read eBooks – either by connecting a Braille display to my phone or by using the text-to-speech technology on my phone. I prefer the former because it lets me feel more connected but when I don’t have as much energy, I use the speech. As I’ve been blogging and now have more online friends who read, I’ve realised that my childhood experiences – even the way I read now – is quite simply separate from how people who can easily pick up a book can read.
I sometimes come across the argument that to read an eBook, or maybe even an audiobook, is not as enriching or is not the same as reading a book from the library or from a bookshop. To tackle this, you have to ask yourself: “What is reading?” Is it the ability to rest in the quiet spaces of a library, head bent over a book until nothing exists but the characters and stories? If so, I have not had that experience; then I haven’t truly read. However, I know that I have absorbed just as much as any other person. I’m not dissatisfied without the weight of a supposed “real” book in my hands – real being in quotation marks – and I am no worse off. I feel absolutely no sadness that I’ve never been able to see words on a page. Listening to an audiobook, for me, is still reading as it was how I could connect with such beloved characters.
It isn’t “a shame” that I can’t experience the wonder of print on a page. The methods by which I read are different – I may read differently – but the emotions I feel are the same. I’m still able to cry over books – which I do often – and I can still feel utter fury at what a character does. It neither decreases my enjoyment nor makes me feel somehow worse off. When I was little, it never crossed my mind that I was at a disadvantage.
This is just my story. There are a myriad of other people who, for whatever reason, cannot read print books. Some may not be able to afford to buy the books they would like in paperback or hardback; some books may not be available in their country; they may not have a library or good bookshop near them. For some, ⠑⠠⠃⠕⠕⠅⠎ may be a “last resort” but it doesn’t mean that they are somehow less. I don’t know their stories and so I won’t try and speak for them. If others can’t access the same materials as some people, there are so many other ways to read than the traditional.
Reading can be subjective. In the same way that human thoughts and behaviour can’t be assigned to different boxes, the way that people read and react to what they read can’t be categorised so easily. Some people, for instance, will prefer eBooks to Print books and vice versa; nobody should be shamed for that. However, those that can’t access one or the other aren’t necessarily unhappy with it, in the case of myself. Just because an idea is different doesn’t mean it’s somehow less.
If information is subject to interpretations in books, surely the way in which it can be read can also be different? To that effect, if different interpretations are as valid as each other, can’t that be applied to the way people read?
What do you think – what is reading to you? Is there a definition of “reading”, or may that idea be up to the reader who interprets the words?
Love this post? Make sure you go visit Elm @ Just Call me Elm or Something and jump into her world.