Simple Paths, but Empowering Consequences

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"To read is to choose and follow one path from among those suggested by the layout of the text."

-From page 76 of Jay David Bolter's "The New Dialogue" in Evelyn B. Tribble and Anne Trubek's Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age

I had never really thought about the structure and the power of reading from a point of view such as Bolter's until I began reading this essay, even though, once understood, it is a very simple viewpoint.  I thought that the way that Bolter divided the development of the book and of reading into stages that were defined by the "path" the reader follows is a really interesting concept and one that we touched on in class.  He seems to identify the oral stage as linear, for obvious reasons, the manuscript and print stages as linear and hierarchical depending on the piece's design and the reader's interests, and the digital stage as networked that allows for multiple paths that may or may not intersect one another, yet are all connected in some way (75-78).  However, even though each stage depicts each of these specific characteristics, as Bolter points out, the reader still has the choice to follow his or her own path in the piece of writing.  I think this empowering idea shows us, as writers of all sorts, just how much power the reader has over our writing. 

Bolter's insight is eye opening.  I have skimmed pages and even chapters of books, have started a book in the middle, and have only read parts of books, as I am sure we all have.  However, I never considered how important this idea is to my own writing.  I would hope that anyone who would read something I have written would read all of it, not just parts of it.  I also know that I have written body paragraphs that are much better written than the introduction to that work, so I can see how the empowerment that comes with being able to choose what is read may mean that 1.) better parts of my work may not be read by my readers and 2.) that I may not be reading the most informative or interesting parts of others' works.  So, the power that the reader has is really great, but this power can also be not so great for both the author and the reader.   

I think Bolter's concept is not only empowering to us as professional readers and writers, but also to those who may have an aversion to reading.  As a future teacher, I am constantly looking for ways to get people to, if not enjoy, then at least to respect and value reading and writing.  Many of Bolter's points would be interesting to middle and high school students who are often searching for ways to express themselves unaided by adults.  I have found that, especially for these ages, free choice is sometimes the best way to excite interest.  Bolter's ideas about reading in this section have definitely made me think differently about how I read and write and how I will teach reading and writing to others.


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