Today I’m replying to Chapter Two of Maryanne Wolf’s Reader, Come Home with a letter. Because–well, how else, really?
Dear Maryanne Wolf,
You made me think about a single word in an entirely new way. Tracks.
You reminded me that reading isn’t hardwired in my brain, that my brain’s “plasticity within limits” is the wondrous principle that has rearranged my circuits to make reading possible. You made me aware of the multiple acts by specialized neurons that release meaning within single letters, combinations of letters, design, prefixes and suffixes and plurals, probability and prediction, context (verb or noun or something else?), and then the next layer still, memory and association and emotional meanings. A kind of “Circuit du Soleil,” you said, thus imprinting that image indelibly.
All this happens in the single moment, when my eye lands upon that word? I felt the same awe that comes to me when I think of the chemical communications of tree roots or the nests of cliff swallows. Who needs miracles? Being alive in the world is miracle enough.
Your choice of word, too, is particularly apt. You could have picked any word. It seems, on the surface, as if any word will do. But this one has connotations that lift me up from the last chapter and transport me into the next, so that Letter Two becomes itself a track upon with my circus train starts to rattle on towards its next destination.
Anyone who still believes the archaic canard that we use only a tiny portion of our brains hasn’t yet become aware of what we do when we read.
When I revise my words today, I’ll do so with a new respect for the work I’m asking my readers’ brains to do.