Reading between the lines
Someone once asked me to review a document but to read between the lines. He then winked at me a knowing, conspiratorial wink. So I tried reading between the lines. I saw nothing but white space. I winked back. My wink was also knowing and conspiratorial.
He thought I got the message. He was saying don’t just read the words as written. Read them the way I want you to read them. I in turn said I see no other intent in the words I’m reading aside from their literal meaning. Conclusion: reading between the lines takes a great deal of training.
A college professor once told me that learning how to read between the lines is the pathway to power and wisdom. He said that there is an exclusive club living amongst us that understands that words as written are meaningless. It is what you read into them – or reading between the lines – that matters most.
I tried and tried. I pored over any sentence that extended beyond one line. I then pored over every word to see if there was hidden meaning, innuendo, nuance, anything. I once spent so many hours practicing reading between the lines that I heard a cry for help.
And there it was. The cry was coming from between two lines. At first I didn’t see anything. I squinted and barely made out the form of a tiny figure. It was a barely visible man screaming at the top of his lungs. He was so tiny that his screams weren’t quite audible.
“Help me,” he said. “I’m caught between these two lines.” I looked again but he had disappeared. But that’s when I understood the power of reading between the lines.
One time I read the phrase “the proof is in the pudding.” I thought nothing of it. I’d heard it a million times. But I focused on reading between the lines and sensed that there was a hidden meaning. I went to the fridge, took out chocolate pudding I had just bought earlier and ran a spoon through it. It hit upon something hard. It was a pearl.
Amazing I thought. If these are the benefits of reading between the lines I will double read everything I come across. If the writer wants me to come up with an alternative meaning that is quite different from what the words actually say, then I am most willing to become a member of that exclusive club.
So the next time someone says to you read between the lines, know that your life will be enriched once you master doing so. Start out by rereading “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.” Once you are able to read between the lines you will understand the true relationship between Jack and Jill and their desire to end world tyranny. Try it.
-Art Stevens is a long-time columnist for The Islander. His tongue-in-cheek humor is always offered with a smile.