More on Reading, Pt 2

July 14th, 2004 · No Comments
by Booksquare

Keen literary minds on the Internet (in other words, not ours) are discussing Charles Taylor’s Salon article on literature and reading, and many take a different view of the piece than we did (see below to play along at home). We love reading all the viewpoints. Taylor’s article was a direct response to Andrew Solomon’s New York Times editorial, the thesis of which was that reading is inherently harder than watching television or playing video games. We still believe that kind of sweeping generalization destroys his basic argument.

Solomon says there is a great divide between readers and non-readers — non-readers are both apathetic and settled into a state of mental atrophy. We would argue that the vast majority of humans over time have dwelt very comfortably in those states. To us, it explains how football can be a major sport in this nation (and how bear baiting could have ever been practiced — you have to be seriously dumb to piss off a bear). We would also argue that we know many non-apathetic, socially active, mentally curious non-readers. Just as not everyone took to swimming, not everyone reads. Statistics are funny in that they can be read a lot of ways; Solomon’s anaylsis is pretty silly when you know the opposite to be true.

In Taylor’s article, he discusses customers walking into bookstores as if they’re afraid they’ll be found out as frauds. We know people like that — one friend, an English major, no less — has a fear of a certain local bookstore because the clerks seem to be judging her purchases. We know a long-time clerk at this particular store, and have assured our friend this isn’t true. But there are bookstores which give off a “you don’t belong” vibe (same as there are clothing stores and even car dealerships). Solomon’s article offers the same type of snobbery. If a non-reader has already lost the battle for mental acuity and social grace, why bother now?

We’ve been writing about this topic quite a bit lately. Reading is in decline in this country for a lot of reasons (including, sadly, a de-emphasis on reading for pleasure in our educational system). Recovering lost readers and stimulating new minds won’t come easy — especially if the non-readers encounter reading advocates like Solomon.

File Under: Square Pegs