It's not the letter reading. It's the way the letters reads to someone.
Compare the following:
The scenery looks beautiful. It is not the scenery that is looking. It's the way the scenery looks to someone.
This fish smells funny. It's not the fish that is doing the smelling ...
Some verbs just work that way.
If I can smell A, then A 'smells', even if A doesn't have a nose.