Mar 192016

The psychology prof I meet with occasionally to discuss reading suggested an experiment: read a wordless graphic novel. He loaned me Cinema Panopticum by Thomas Ott. We had been discussing how the brain takes in information one word at a time and then processes the same bits of information but combined in another area. The prof noted I don’t have trouble creating or understanding concepts; instead I have a lot of trouble ensuring my brain absorbs each bit of information — each word — and putting them together, depending on the complexity and length of the material.

What if we gave me something where the words were already put together, so to speak? What if we bypassed the basic problem of getting my brain to absorb each word and to combine the words? They say one picture equals a thousand words. Well, maybe in a wordless graphic novel, one picture isn’t equal to a thousand, but it sure is equal to many, maybe even one paragraph. Would that make it easier for me to read?

Today, I am sitting down with Cinema Panopticum to find out.

It’s a large-sized book I can lean on a cushion while I read it. Each page has a black background, and each panel is drawn in grey scale, like a pencil sketch. Fairly easy on my eyes, and fairly easy for me to perceive. Some panels are on the outer limits of how much detail I can comfortably perceive.

I used the same routine as for my regular reading homework: begin with three minutes of deep breathing to relax me and prepare my brain. Wear my reading glasses. Set the timer for 10 minutes. Begin.

I wasn’t sure how one “reads” a wordless novel. I have a tendency to look at images or photos quickly, and that’s what I did with the first panels. The first part of the story is also fairly familiar to readers: a girl wants to go to the fair, she only has five coins, all the rides cost more than five. But I suddenly realized a headache was coming on. I checked my timer.

Two minutes.

I remembered I’m supposed to take three deep breaths between each paragraph to ease any burgeoning headache or prevent one. But what is a paragraph in a wordless graphic novel? A page of panels? Two pages? Or is it better to go by time?

I took the three deep breaths but didn’t recall out loud. I read for another minute and a half. This time I looked at each panel longer, and a few of the panels I studied carefully, like I was the girl trying to figure out what she was looking at as she explored the fair. The headache began to encroach again, and I was at the end of the first section. I remembered this time I’m supposed to recall out loud. I spent another minute and a half recalling out loud section one — or is it chapter one? (no, the description of the novel says it’s the intro to four novelettes) — while I took three deep breaths.

I considered continuing on because I had been reading for only five minutes, but I had a small headache, and I was tired. Better to quit while ahead than try to push it. I’m looking forward to reading novelette one tomorrow.