Did we read the same book?

I did a library talk last night with the fabulous Saundra Mitchell for Teen Read Week. A teacher had brought one of her classes who had all read XVI together for class. The kids (all high school seniors) were engaged, asked lots of thoughtful questions, and had fabulous comments to make. (Can I just say it was the best night ever?!!!) And, one of them explained what the teacher had done with the assignment. They had to read 3 chapters a night and they had questions they had to answer every day. These were not the typical "why did so-and-so do this thing? what's the hidden meaning?" Nope, they were questions more along the line of what do you think this character was thinking when this happened? Did you agree with what he/she did? Etc.

Aside from the fact that several of the kids said XVI was the first book they'd ever read all the way through (how great did THAT make me feel?!!!) -- one thing that was obvious was that even though they all read the same book - it meant different things to each of them! Here are some examples:

1. One girl said a lot of girls she knows are already having sex and she doesn't feel ready to. She really identified with my MC (Nina), since that's Nina's thing -- in a world where being sexual at 16 is the norm, Nina's not ready to do that.

2. One guy identified with the book's portrayal of the police. He even commented that cops had come to his house once after a robbery and they left it in similar shape to how I portrayed Nina's house after the cops searched it.

3. Several of the audience identified with XVI's "Big Brother"-type government portrayal.

So - they all read the same book - but it was definitely individual to each.

Now, this is not a new thing - that the reader reads the book they want to, not necessarily the book the author wrote - but I loved seeing it up-close & personal!

Have you ever read a book and discussed it with someone else who'd read it and you've both come away with different ideas of what the book meant?  I wonder...


Bittersweet Fountain said...

Not only do my friends and I often take away different things from a book, but often at different points in my life I will take away different things then I did earlier.

For example, when I was younger and read "A Wrinkle in Time" I really identified with Meg's feelings of being an outsider and being ugly and just not being normal like she should be. When I reread the book a year or two ago, as a twenty-something, I really identified with the idea that Meg expected her dad to solve all of her problems once she found him, but he couldn't. That was something I was struggling with a lot as I transitioned into graduate school--that my parents no longer could handle my problems even if I wanted them to. They weren't engineers. They had never been to graduate school. They could no longer advise me on my life other than generic advise. Like Meg, I had to find my own way and learn to rely on myself.

So books can definitely mean different things to different people and even to the same person at different times in their life.

Ami said...

Hey, same book came to my mind! At different times I have been more interested in the character aspect, the science aspect, or the light vs. dark aspect. And now as a parent, I feel more for Mrs. Murray, and admire how strong and positive she stayed. I also have found myself repeating the line about Charles Wallace recently - that he is something entirely new - in reference to my scary-smart 2yo who finishes people's sentences for them.

Tere Kirkland said...

Wow, what an amazing experience for you! I think there are a lot of aspects of XVI to make today's teens think critically about issues that affect them, or will someday.

This is also a good reminder of how much of the reader's own experience is used to envision the story inside any book. Thanks, Julia!

Melissa @ Mel's Books and Info said...

That sounds like it was a great event! I am so glad that the teens got so much out of the book. So much of the reading we do is an individual activity. We read in silence, and only get our own personal perspectives. I wish I had more opportunity to read with a group. To see how other interpreted the same work and how it resonates with different people. It can really make you rethink what you read. I am so glad you had such a successful event. Congrats!

Julia Karr said...

Such great comments, guys!
So true, Bittersweet & Ami! Different times in our lives give different meanings to what we're reading.

And yes - Tere & Melissa - it was a great event! And the kids were living proof that each reader takes their own "read" (so to speak!) on a book!