But reading a book is a much deeper thing than interpreting a series of signs. Words can inform, but they can also enlist, and it is this power to engage consciousness, so that a fiction becomes the reader’s own experience, that is remarkable. There is a power, as of ritual or initiation, which claims a place in deep memory, and which remains integral and complex. Every novel we call great has by now a penumbra of interpretation surrounding it. But at the core of it all is the irreducible complexity of the fiction itself, for which no equivalent language can be found. This is the music that has as its instrument the consciousness of the reader.
From Marilynne Robinson, “On the Reader: An Excerpt from an Essay in Progress” in Constance Rooke, ed., Writing Life: Celebrated Canadian and International Authors on Writing and Life (McClelland & Stewart, 2006).