Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Tammy LaPlante
Children’s Lit 225
Think Piece 1
April 25, 2010

Eating What You Read 

In an excerpt of Children’s Literature, Briefly, Michael O. Tunnell and James S. Jacobs compare reading to eating.  They say, “Like eating, reading is one of life’s activities that simultaneously yields both pleasure and benefit” (1).  I love to eat and I love to read, but I have never thought of comparing the two experiences.  We would all agree that it is a wonderful experience to sit down to a great meal.  Our taste buds water in anticipation of the pleasure to come: the taste, the texture, and the joy we feel as our stomach welcomes our latest gift.   Sometimes the experience is heightened by the ambience of the surroundings, and the presentation of the food itself.  Afterward, you sit back and relax, enjoying the satisfied feeling in your stomach, remembering the taste sensations, and experiencing that general feeling of well-being as your body begins to convert that lovely food into the building blocks it needs for your health.  While thinking about these things, I began to imagine that reading is a similar experience, and started asking myself some questions.  When and why do I anticipate sitting down with a book?  Are there things that sometimes enhance my reading experience?  Do I always feel satisfied at the end of a book?  Do I eat what I read?  These are some of the ideas that I will be exploring in this paper. 

Anticipation is an exciting state of mind.  Like the watering of our taste buds for a favorite food, our mind can delight in the expectation of pleasure from a story.  But what is it that causes the anticipation? Recommendations from people we trust can bring about anticipation.  Some of the best books I have ever read or listened to were recommendations from people whose opinion I trust.  How many times have you gone to a restaurant on someone’s recommendation and maybe even ordered a particular item from the menu that was described, in detail, to you?  Maybe it was described so well that you could picture it and even imagined that you could taste it.  A book recommendation can bring about the same feelings.  People have often described a plot, or a character in a plot, so well that it brought them to life in my mind and I eagerly anticipated or “tasted” the pleasures that I knew the story would bring.  Anticipation can come from our own experiences as well.  When I find a restaurant that has good food, I look forward to future visits so I can try everything on the menu.  Similarly, if I have enjoyed a book, I look forward to trying something else by that author, hoping to experience the same wonderful “tastes” I found in the first.  

We’ve talked a lot about the pleasures of taste.  What if you taste something and it’s not as good as you thought it would be; maybe it left a bad taste in your mouth.  Should you stop eating it or should you eat a few more bites to see if it gets better?  If it doesn’t get any better should you throw it away, or should you eat it because you know it’s good for you?  Sometimes a book leaves a bad “taste” in my mouth when I first start reading it, and I have to decide if there is a good reason to push past the “taste” or set it aside for something more “palatable.”   

Sometimes food tastes bad after the first bite but I have found that sometimes, if I hang in there and eat a few more bites, I will actually start to like it.  Reading can be like that.  You might read the first chapter of a book and decide that you don’t really like the story or information that it offers; it hasn’t managed to give you that immediate reward that Tunnell and Jacobs talk about, of pulling us “ into images and ideas at the very moment we travel through the words”  (3).  But if you read on you might find that its pull was just a little weaker than some and though it took a little longer, it was still able to pull you in.  I have found this to be true and on many occasions was so glad that I hung in there with a story.  How long you should persevere to see if this happens is up to the individual, but you might find the rewards worth the effort.  

Sometimes I have eaten several bites of a food only to find that it never tastes any better to me.  Most of the time, I set it aside and eat the other, more palatable, food on my plate.  But sometimes I recognize the nutritional value and eat it anyway.  It depends on how bad the taste is.  Similarly, if I have read several chapters in a book and have found that it is not “tasting” any better than it did at the beginning I will usually decide to set it aside in favor of something more exciting.  And let’s be honest; there are so many good books out there and so little time to read them all that we really have to ask ourselves why we would even consider continuing with a book that we don’t like. But there have been occasions when I have decided to persevere in my reading because I recognized the “nutritional value” in the information it contained. Tunnell and Jacobs would say that I was at the point of being “motivated by getting basic information” (5).  Like the vitamins and minerals we gain from food that we might not like the taste of, the knowledge we can gain from such books will be a long-term reward for enduring the unpleasant “taste.” 

Ambience can play an important role in a dining experience, as can food presentation.  Imagine low lighting, beautiful décor, soft music, and a beautifully arranged plate of food.  The food will taste the same with or without these things, but your experience will be heightened because of them.  A reading experience can be heightened as well.  Think of the most beautiful place you have ever been and imagine relaxing with a book there.  For me, that place is anywhere near a body of water.  Now imagine a book with an inviting cover, and colorful illustrations.  The story is the same, but your experience is enhanced by the presentation.  Audio books can enhance the presentation, as well.  I have sometimes read and listened to a book and felt that I liked it better when I listened to it.   Again, the story is the same, and I enjoyed reading it, but the reader really brought the book to life for me and made it a more satisfying experience.   

The feeling of satisfaction that a great meal can bring is one of the many delights of life.  That feeling I mentioned earlier, of sitting back and relaxing, remembering the tastes, and the sensation of well being as your body begins to digest the nutrients.  But eating is not always satisfying.  Sometimes I am left feeling like I still want something but I don’t know what it is, and sometimes I don’t feel well at all at the end of a meal.  Unfortunately, reading experiences are occasionally unsatisfying in this way.  If you are a reader, chances are you have experienced this.  Maybe you liked the story but it didn’t end the way you thought it should or you felt the author could have added more in the way of character development. There are many reasons that a story could be unsatisfying, and it’s important to remember that what is satisfying for me might not be satisfying for you. 

Eating and reading are two very different experiences with a lot of similarities.  Is this a coincidence?  I don’t think so.  Eating is essential for life; my body needs proper nourishment to stay healthy.  I believe that reading is just as essential.   As eating sustains my body, reading sustains my mind.   Whether I’m reading for pleasure or reading to learn, I’m giving my mind essential nutrients that contribute to who I am.  The real me, not just what people see when they look at me.  I believe that approaching my reading experience in the same way I approach my eating experience could be life changing.  What about you?  Are you eating what you read?    Do your taste buds water in anticipation of a good book?  Is your mind “digesting” what you read and turning it into “nutrition?”  If you are a reader, I have to believe that the answer to all of these questions is yes.  If you are not, have I given you food for thought?  Go ahead, sit down to a good “meal” and lose yourself in a story.  You’ll be glad you did.


Work Cited 

Jacobs, James S. and Michael O. Tunnell. "Why Read?"  Children’s Literature, Briefly. 4th Ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 2008. Print. 1-11.


Copyright 2010
Tammy La Plante


Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA