It is easy as a reader to think that when you open that book, you are starting with this blank space that the book fills completely. That the book will succeed or fail entirely on its own merits. That is great in theory, but theory and reality rarely ever travel along the same path. In this, the theory breaks because while the book may be a blank slate, the reader is not.
We each bring our own issues, experience and history onto that slate before we ever even glance at the cover. Our own well covered slate has us beginning to form thoughts and expectations on that first glance before the spine is even cracked. It is impossible to not let our slate color the slate of the book.
Our slates help us to form opinions and perceptions about what we are reading. It is what helps us to like characters, plot elements, settings, everything that make up that book. It is also what can make us dislike all those same things if they don’t fit into our personal version of the perceptions we form.
A book may connect on a seriously deep emotional level with a reader that has a personal experience that resonates with the subject in the book. While that same book may be incredibly unemotional to a reader that their own history doesn’t give them the background to create any kind of a bridge between them and the book to help them empathize. The second reader may still be able to enjoy the book, but they just won’t be able to connect in the same way or on such an emotional level.
As reader, I try to keep in mind what my own slate has written on it and attempt to understand how a person with a different history may view a story that I’m struggling to connect with. There are times when my imagination just isn’t good enough to stretch that far, but sometimes, I can get a different perspective on a story and understand it on a different level.
I find it fascinating to look at how differing perceptions form peoples opinions with regards to books. There are times when I’m floored after I’ve read a book that I thought was stunningly written only to then go read how other people have reviewed that book and find out that they completely hated it. A lot of times, if the review is well articulated, I can totally understand how someone might feel that way. I many not agree, but I can understand it. Other times, I’m on the opposite end of that concept when I’ve found a book I really didn’t like that is heavily praised.
Understanding how my perceptions influence my opinion has also helped me learn to articulate what or why I like or dislike certain aspects of the books I’ve read. It still isn’t always easy, not by a long shot, but it does help. Eh… sometimes.