And This Is Bad?

June 29th, 2004 · No Comments
by Booksquare

Sometimes (okay, more often that not), we find ourselves behind on reading such things as newspapers and magazines (by this, we mean online reading, though we’re behind on those items in the physical world as well). Thus, we read critiques of articles before we read the actual articles. This may, at times, color our opinions on the original work. For example, we’d heard so much about Christina Nehring’s essay in The New York Times Book Review that we were quite certain we would roll our eyes and shake our head when we actually read the full text (if it helps, we’ve linked to more thoughtful analyses below).

Hey! Guess what? We were right. Maybe it was the “duh” moment when she encountered proud readers at a book fair — she sees sanctimonious where we see marketing. Or maybe it was her implication that reader-readers cannot think for themselves. It makes us want to wear a t-shirt proclaiming, “I’m a reader, and I think.” But we don’t know how to make t-shirts that say things. It is our experience that such items magically appear in drawers, perhaps left by elves or other noctural creatures.

Then there is the “you need help” tone of this:

We all know people who use a text the way others use Muzak: to stave off the silence of their minds. These people may have a comic book in the bathroom, a newspaper on the breakfast table, a novel over lunch, a magazine in the dentist’s office, a biography on the kitchen counter, a political expose in bed, a paperback on every surface of their home and a weekly in their back pocket lest they ever have an empty moment.

Of course our offense comes from the fact that we read cereal boxes when no other words were available. Would you prefer we listened to our brothers and sisters? We like words. We like words that form sentences. And we adore a well-rounded paragraph. In fact, we point with awe and admiration to a entire chapters we consider particularly brilliant (specifically, Chapter Nine of Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign). We enjoy this whole process so much we tell ourself stories when reading isn’t an option (we also call this “writing” for obvious reasons) — and, yes, sometimes we set aside the words and have a little think. About the world, about politics, about society. Sometimes we base these thoughts on things we’ve read, sometimes we just go ahead and have a few original thoughts (or are thoughts like plots, in which there are no original ones?).

Nehring may believe reading is the purview of snobs because it is a dying institution. Books, she hints, are archaic in the world of the Internet. She conveniently forgets the Web is largely words. And, until someone comes up with a better approach, reading seems to be the best way to deal with those.

File Under: Books/Mags/Blogs