Monday, September 24, 2007

On Being a Non-Linear Reader

Most of the people I know read one book at a time, then move on to the next book. Not me. I generally am reading several books and/or journals at a time, all the time. This morning I saw this trait referred to as being a non-linear reader.

I used to be a monogamist. I honored that voice in my head that intoned "Thou shalt read just one book at a time" (it was the voice of my high school English teacher, Ms. Denize.) But something happened to me this summer - some unnoticed change took place - and now here I am reading no less than six books at once. Like juggling multiple girlfriends, it's no easy task: I'm like a squirrel storing up nuts. I wonder if I might be preparing for a long winter of making love to War and Peace or something.

Nice phrase, non-linear reader.

I guess this is a skill I picked up while being a lit major in college. I was usually taking three or more courses each term that required me to read between three and ten books for the term, especially in grad school. Most of the time, these were novels. So I had to learn quickly to be able to juggle multiple plots and characters in my head on any given day.

One of the huge benefits of being able to do this -- if you can -- is that when reading non-fiction (which is almost all I read now, aside from poetry), I can begin to see patterns that emerge and overlap. It helps me see what I am reading within a larger context.

For example, right now I am reading Relational Psychotherapy: A Primer and Self Psychology: An Introduction, as well as some other books: A Mind So Rare, The Gift of Therapy, and Object Relations and Self Psychology: An Introduction.

What I am seeing, from a variety of different perspectives, is how crucial empathy is in the healthy development of human beings -- and that when we don't experience some healthy form of mirroring (or even more importantly, a sense of twinship with another human being) as children, we often grow up with a fist-sized hole in our hearts.

In other words, children need to idealize and emotionally "sink into" and identify with the idealized competence of admired figures. They also need to have their self-worth reflected back ("mirrored") by empathic and caregiving others. These experiences allow them to thereby learn the self-soothing and other skills that are necessary for the development of a healthy (cohesive, vigorous) sense of self.

When this doesn't happen, children grow up needing constant external reinforcement, often lack self-esteem, or suffer from a variety of intimacy issues. This is all part of attachment theory now, which seems to be one the central areas of interest at most of the conferences I have been to or seen advertised.

But self psychology and relational psychotherapy, both of which have roots in psychoanalysis (which I had once written off as a dead field -- D'oh!), are strong "lineages" in their own right.

Anyway -- by reading multiple books (non-linear reading) I am able to see the larger patterns of the books I am reading, which is very cool.

That's all I'm saying.

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