When we read, we are usually good listeners. However, when we are having a conversation with another person, we are not always great listeners because we often consider listening as a chore while talking as a way of self-understanding. That’s not really true.
We can sometimes end up best understanding bits of ourselves by to the stories of other people.
This is so true in the case of reading literature.
Novels are stories of other people that we don’t mind hearing; because they are also, at their best, stories that teach us about ourselves.
This is what Marcel Proust had to say on this: ‘Every reader of a novel is in effect the reader of his own life, whose shape he is better able to appreciate thanks to the spectacles which the novelist has offered him.’
So, why is it interesting to listen intently when we read whereas it’s a chore when we listen to an actual physical person?
The reason why so-called great writers are interesting to listen to (even when they talk about themselves) is that they have mastered the trick of teasing out from their experiences what is Universally Relevant from what is Locally Specific.
We haven’t got the wrong sort of life; we have the wrong techniques for narrating that life. And by narrating badly, we help to create an enduring suspicion of the act of having to listen to someone else speak.
In order to be a good listener, we must act like editors.
The people we have around us are a lot more interesting than we think – . Being a good listener is like being a good editor in a publishing house.
The Good Listener knows that one of the best ways to understand an issue in one’s own life is to hear it discussed through the life of someone else – and furthermore, they have the editing skills to make sure they can find themselves in the words of others.