If Authors Told You How to Read Their Books…As Inspired by Music

Apples authors orders.jpg

I read an article about a piece of music the other day where each section started with a direction, like “to be whispered like an incantation.” Not being the sharpest knife in the drawer, it took me a while to figure out what these directions actually were. At first I thought the author was telling me how to read the following words, and me being me, I got a bit feisty and frustrated. Don’t you tell me how to read this! I’ll read it however I want!!

Of course, then I realized that these were just quotes from the score where the composer had written instructions for the performers…whoops. Anger instantly abated.

But then I thought, why is this any different? The composer is telling me what to do in his or her music so that I (or whoever the performer is) can communicate the right emotions or “message” when I play it. What if authors did that? What if they wrote instructions for readers on how to read different parts of their books?

Of course, narrators are a way they do do this in a very limited sense. When I read something like “she huffed” before a line of dialogue, I then read that line of dialogue in a “huffy” way, just as the author told me to–and without getting defensive! (Side note: what happens when the indication “she huffed” comes after the dialogue? Do we retrospectively “correct” how we read the words??) In this sense, then, maybe the composer’s markings in a score are like the narrator’s words in a story. But in the case of classical music, the performer mediates between us and the composer by playing the music in the prescribed manner like an actor performing a particular character.

So what if authors did explicitly give instructions for how to read a book, like “to be whispered like an incantation”? What if they gave us instructions to read the book out loud, or outside in the sun, or after we just broke up with our boyfriend/girlfriend, or late at night with only a small lamp to illuminate the words, or even while eating apples? Each way of reading something has an impact (however small) on the meaning or enjoyment we get out of it…and authors/composers do generally want us to get the most out of their work.

I’m very curious as to what people think. If you were given specific instructions as to how/where/when to read a book, would you find it intriguing or get “huffy” yourself? Let me know in the comments!

You might also like: Different Perspectives in Books…and Music! and What If Books Used “Easter Eggs?”

17 thoughts on “If Authors Told You How to Read Their Books…As Inspired by Music

  1. I’m pretty sure that we do retrospectively correct the way we previously read a line of dialogue. I know that I do it, I tend to go back to it and read it again in the correct tone. As for your idea about giving readers specific instructions on when to read a book, I think it’s really intriguing. But I probably wouldn’t wait until the appropriate time. I’d just continue on with the book and ignore all the instructions and warnings.

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  2. Super interesting. What you said about retrospectively correcting what we’ve read when the inflection cues come afterward- I’ve noticed when I read, that I sweep the text ahead as I read the individual words (??) so I know who says it/how it’s said/etc. When the inflection cue is too far ahead then I get confused, looking ahead and losing my place.

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    • Interesting! I do think there has to be some back and forth but it kind of blows my mind when I stop to think about it. I’ve never caught myself actively skipping ahead so that I understand what I’m currently reading but maybe now that I’m aware of it I will!

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  3. Pingback: If Authors Told You How to Read Their Books…As Inspired by Music — If Mermaids Wore Suspenders – Vlado Blog

  4. If I was given instructions on how/where/when to read a book, I think I’d find it intriguing enough to try it. It’s a neat idea, but it’s also a little self-aggrandizing or lazy. The author should be able to set the mood for a creepy murder mystery thriller without me having to read in a dark dingy alley. Likewise, I should WANT to go to the beach after reading a nice romance based in a tropical island because the descriptions leap off the page.

    But, I’m also all for combining art forms and creating an EXPERIENCE. So I think it’s neat when writers share the playlists they wrote to or inspiration images (like Pinterest boards). I think including scent or even taste (like food lol) would be neat too for enriching a reading experience. Sort of like those book boxes. You get this cute complete package to go along with the books!

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    • Hmmmm, intriguing! I agree that it’s the author’s job to take the reader to a certain “place” without having to physically go there (isn’t that the point of a book?), but I’m with you! If it was done right I feel like I’d be curious enough to try. But creating the experience is also so cool! The book boxes are a great example. Alas, I’m afraid I shall stay torn haha.

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  5. I listen to a lot of audio books & sometimes I question the narration. Sometimes I disagree with the inflection, sometimes I find it spot on, or sometimes it makes me question everything. I like listening to books narrated by the author because then there’s a lot less up to the director’s interpretation.

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