READING IS SPOOKY. So spooky, in fact, there was a time when reading silently—something every elementary school child is taught to do today—was considered witchcraft.
A brief history of storytelling will explain:
The first stories were spoken, told around campfires, by illiterate bards to an illiterate audience, and passed from generation to generation through repeated telling. (It seems that even in ancient times evening entertainment was plagued by reruns.) The telling of stories was mystical. Men would gather around the fire as the storyteller's words conjured up images in their minds as if by magic.
Stories took on shape and color when the ancients began illustrating them with paintings on cave walls. But the visuals lacked significant detail, such as the names of heroes and significant places. Storytellers filled in the gaps. (Think slide shows and PowerPoint presentations.) Paintings provided something stories told around the campfire lacked. Permanency.
Then, storytelling took a quantum leap forward as glyphs morphed into words, combining the detail of the spoken story with the permanency of cave paintings. Stories recorded on vellum and parchment could be told with precision, each telling the same as before.
That's when something spooky happened.
As storytellers became proficient at reading, some of them made an amazing discovery. They could see the story in their minds just by looking at the words. To non-readers this was just plain scary, to think that thought and speech and images could be transmitted from one mind to another without speaking was . . . was. . . well, it was witchcraft! What was to prevent unscrupulous men from writing words in public places and planting unwanted images into the minds of unsuspecting readers? (This ancient fear has been fully realized with modern billboards.)
Of course, today reading silently is not only common, it’s preferred. The world is noisy enough as it is. Imagine the increase in annoying decibels if everyone on airplanes and buses and automobiles, in libraries, schools, homes, restaurants, and restrooms (What? You think I don’t know you read in there?) read aloud; not to mention the words and descriptions coming out of the mouths of all those reading James Patterson novels.
I just can’t get over the spookiness of reading. Sitting here at my desk, October 29, 2010, I can encode the images appearing in my mind—characters, setting, dialogue, scenes—onto a piece of paper (spookier still, it can be done now with invisible digital electronic ones and zeroes), and transmit my entire fictional world across geographical space to anyone on the globe, now and in the future, so that hundreds of years from now, long after I’ve turned to dust, those same images will appear in the minds of readers I will never meet, readers who haven’t yet been born.
The reading experience may be common, you’ll never convince me that linking minds across space and time isn’t spooky.