Ever since I started my PhD project on absorption, I have been thinking about the various ways in which the word absorption can be used. I feel like both the phrase ‘I was absorbed by the book’ and the phrase ‘ I was absorbed in the book’ are valid ways to describe an experience in which you were totally engaged in reading. However, one puts more emphasis on the power of the book than the other: being absorbed by a book, makes the reader a more passive bystander rather than the instigator of the absorbing experience, which seems to be implied in the phrase ‘I was absorbed in  the book’.

Recently, however, I cam across this blogpost by Demian Farnworth on his blog The Copybot. I don’t even remember how I got there (probably via Twitter), since the blogpost is quite dated. Nevertheless the topic of the post is one that immediately caught my eye: “How to absorb a book into your bloodstream”.

This is the first instance in which I have seen the verb absorbing used in such a manner that the power seems to lie completely in the reader. Farnworth argues for a more involved way of reading, by writing…in the margins of your favourite books.

“The point of writing in a good book is NOT to see how many you can get through. The point is to see how many get through to you. How many you absorb into your blood. And one of the best ways to do that is to write in it.”

Now I am not one of those readers who thinks a book is a sacred thing that should be treasured by handling it carefully and leaving it sitting in your bookcase looking much the same as when you bought it. I am a reader who thinks a book is a sacred thing that should be treasured by actively reading it: the first thing I do when I start reading a book is to I crack the spine; I fold corners, and yes, sometimes write in books, when I feel the need to. Fanworth, however, takes this type of reading to another level: he sees writing in a book as a form of intellectual ownership, not just of that copy of the book, but of your thoughts and discoveries about the book you’re reading.

I see where he is coming from, but his way of reading raises a question: when you are actively absorbing a book into your bloodstream, can you still experience that feeling of being absorbed by a book? Once you put the book down, does the feeling of having made a trip to another world linger with you? Or were you so busy with writing and reflecting to become enchanted and leave your chair for a story world? Losing awareness of your surroundings and self – the mark of an absorbed reading experience – seems almost impossible when reflecting so intensely on what you are reading. At the same time, both these types of reading experiences are no doubt highly engaging and worthwhile. Is there an experiential difference between being absorbed by and absorbing a book?

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