Thursday, February 04, 2010

Three Links On Reading

Here are three links on the skill and activity of "Reading", you know, that "thing" I've been pushing for all these years now. :D

How Should Fiction Be Read?, sent in by a PGS blog reader, on the different ways one can read a piece. An excerpt:

This problem will strike many people as familiar. We fall into a novel on the subway, enjoy a magazine short story in the bath, or tear through 60 pages before falling asleep in one of Borders' very comfortable chairs—all without ever wondering whether we're reading properly. The moment reading takes on a social component, though, matters of taste and judgment claim the spotlight. How to formulate a thought about a book? Which thoughts to formulate? Discussing a text with an English professor steeped in the New Criticism requires one reading method. Evaluating a mystery novel or joining in Oprah's Book Club calls for different approaches entirely. But novels aren't written for interpretive subcultures, and when we encounter fiction (and other people who read it) in the wild, it's often unclear which way to parse and evaluate it, what kinds of things to focus on. Are some systems best for assessing the craft?

Writers Who Don't Read, a blog entry I saw via Artistmonk, which is a bit on the tough side, saying that writers who don't read are really just egoists. An excerpt:

The writer who does not read is full of himself. He doesn't care about literature at all, he cares about himself first and foremost. It's an ego trip, nothing else. You've never heard of a musician who doesn't truly love music, and no real writer doesn't love literature, and reading. Whether you listen to music, or make your own, your love of it is sensibly the same. Not so for writers who do not read. Why? Because "literature" is only worthwhile to them insofar as they wrote it. That is why I say it is mostly an ego trip. It is little more than mental masturbation.

And lastly, Who Stole Our Reading Time?, a piece that rallies us to find time to read in today's wired world. An excerpt:

Almost everyone I speak to claims that they "love books but just can't find the time to read". Well, they probably could – they're just choosing to spend it differently.

This has dire consequences for our collective intellect. So besieged are we by the entertainment industry that we are being stimulated only in certain directions. The sound of fizz is everywhere. Sustained concentration on the printed word, whether in-depth argument or fictional narrative, creates a particular cerebral event which visual-dependent media cannot. The assault upon this has meant the very theft of our thinking space.

Obviously media such as the internet offer enormous benefits to (you wouldn't be reading this otherwise), but they also glide easily into the surface world of sleek illusions and infinite chatter which surrounds us. And have you seen Avatar? Have you seen what they can do now? Call me melodramatic, but I am beginning to feel like the protagonist in some SF dystopia myself, having his own thoughts erased, and liking it.

Culture changed quickly and permanently in the last decade. That pregnant, mental pause of reading has come under threat like never before. "Writing is a form of personal freedom," said Don DeLillo in a letter to Jonathan Franzen, who had appealed to him about this very issue long before the arrival of the internet. "It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture, but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals." Exactly the same statement, I think, describes the condition of serious readers.


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