The other day I came into the kitchen at breakfast-time to find Livia, aged 7, reading the comment page in the newspaper. Though I know she's a good reader I did find this a bit surprising as she's only just graduated from Rainbow Fairies (boo! hiss!). Just to see if she was really reading it, I said something too her. Her finger went out to mark her place on the page as she raised her head to speak to me. Yes, she was definitely reading the words. Did she have any idea what she was reading? By the time she got up from the table I was involved in something else and so I didn't ask. Only later when I ran my eyes over the same page, left open on the table, while I ate my lunch did I stop to wonder what she had got from reading something that almost certainly meant very little to her.
In a book I am reading at the moment (The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers), someone says 'Reading is an intelligent way of not having to think.' I agree with this, but only partly. Ideally, a person reads and thinks at the same time; he is engaged with the reading matter. However to be truly engaged involves pushing all one's other thoughts to the background of the mind. That's what makes reading is such a useful way of passing travelling time and why it's such a good thing to do before sleeping (except for those occasions when the book is so gripping you can't stop thinking about it after you turn the light out). I can't see why anyone who can read would ever need to meditate. It's easy to empty your mind if you can fill it with someone else's words.
As for Livia's breakfast-time reading matter, I think this is the other side of the same idea. A reading person with an empty mind (as it often is at breakfast time) may find that their eyes simply latch onto words that they see. I don't suppose for one moment that Livia picked up the newspaper and selected the comment page to read. It was just there and eyes rested on it and then she did what she always does with words, she followed them across the page. I do it all the time: words leap out at me, notices, labels, road signs, poems on the Underground (what a great idea). I can still quote the message printed on the sanitary bags on the back of the school loo doors. On holiday in Crete this summer, I found the Greek alphabet desperately frustrating because it took such an effort to remember which shape had which sound and so to decipher the words. Of course I didn't need to do this. It was quite clear what all the words meant, as everything was written in English too, and German and something Scandinavian. But the words were there and were calling out to be read, and the fact that they weren't giving me their message felt like they were bombarding me with their crypticness.