If I asked you to close your eyes and picture a sunset, what might you see? Maybe you see a vivid picture of the sunset, so vivid it’s like you’re imaging a scene from real life. Maybe you see something blurrier, with the colours of the sunset visible but no clear image.
Me? I see nothing. I know what a sunset looks like and I can describe one to you with words. But when I try to picture a sunset in my head, all I see is black.
The inability to create mental images in your mind is called aphantasia. I’ve read that aphtansia is on a spectrum, as some people with aphantasia can see some hazy images in their minds eye. However, I’m completely aphantasic as I cannot create any mental images.
I love reading (perhaps in spite of my aphantasia?) but I think my aphantasia might lead me to approach reading differently than other people without.
Overly descriptive language doesn’t do much for me
Learning about what a character looks like or what the setting is like does help me understand a story better. For example, I still know what a character with red hair looks like even if I can’t picture it in my head.
But it’s a different story when an author goes on about a character’s hair, or all their physical features, or the map of the city the book is set in, or the exact layout of the room the characters are in.
I’ll still process this information and it might give me some insight about the story itself. I personally find these sections very unhelpful and tend to glaze over sections like this if they start to drag on for too long. I think these sections are meant to help readers picture the story better but I can’t picture anything anyways!
What helps me better picture something is when authors give references to senses that aren’t just visual, like an author describing a plate of food not only by how it looks but also how it tastes and smells. Book illustrations that show a map or how the author pictures the character are also great since they give me a better sense of what everything is supposed to look like.
The way that the words sound, the author’s writing style, and the plot itself are more important for me since the words themselves are my main way of engaging with the book, not the pictures the author creates.
I’m a fast reader
I can’t speak for everyone with aphantasia, but I wonder if there’s a relationship between aphantasia and reading speed. My guess (with a sample size of one) is that people with aphantasia might read faster because they can’t visualize. Or, maybe people with aphantasia read slower because it takes a lot more effort for us to ‘see’ things?
I’ve heard some people say that reading is like a movie in their head and that they slow down to visualize the scenes they’re reading about. But it’s not something that I can do because of my aphantasia, so I never stop to try and do this. I just focus on the words itself and what they’re conveying, if that makes sense. Not stopping to visualize scenes saves me a lot of time when I’m reading.
If I felt like it and I had the time, I could finish a 300+ page book in a day and still remember much of the book afterwards! This was a really useful, but unintentionally developed skill in university. I was an international relations major and had a lot of readings for my classes. The ability to read quickly made it easier to get through what I had and to manage my workload. Though, it did make geography classes a bit tougher since I had a hard time picturing where things were and where places were in relation to one another.
Do you have aphantasia? If so, how does it impact your reading? And for those of you who can visualize, what’s reading while being able to picture things in your head like?