Let’s talk about, instead of books, readers.
I’m thinking lately about who we are as readers, why we read (or don’t read).
Reading Frenzen’s Essays has prompted me to think about why we read. He asks himself why he writes. And for writers, reading is a symbiotic process. They are also readers, and they aspire to have readers. We are their audience. They define themselves, in a way, by who we are. They exist if we do, or because we do.
Let’s look at the world’s literary periods: a Classic Period (Greek, Roman, Patristic -early christian writers-), followed by the Medieval Period, The Renaissance and Reformation, The Enlightenment, Victorian Period and 19th Century, Modern Period, and Postmodern Period.
I sometimes forget to put a book in its historical context. That helps me as a reader, to understand why it’s so difficult for me to connect with the book. Difficulties arise from the language front, or the content, or both. When everything is too removed from my experience, it’s very hard to read. But reading enlarges my experience, therefore, after some time, reading by proximity (not chronological, but ability speaking), books that years ago were way out of my reach, are now inside my reading radar, sending a strong signal.
Why would anyone want to read something which she doesn’t understand? That’s another question. Many today read just as a pass time, others read to learn, some read a bit for both. Why do I read? I don’t think I read just to pass the time, though sometimes I read to pass the time. I not only read to learn either, though I surely read to learn. I read to live, I guess. It’s difficult to define the whole of my reading life. I want to enjoy what I read, but I believe I can educate my taste, or expand it, little by little. When I push my reading limits, I know I’m growing, and also enjoying, and growing some more…
So, who are we, 21st century readers?
Frenzen says that a lot of women who live lives very different to that of their moms, are substantial readers (meaning readers who read substantial books, books that are not just light literature, for example, The Brothers Karamazov, etc). Are we, 21st century readers, substantial readers? I know I am.
He believes there’s a relationship between TV, technology, and our diminished numbers of new readers. Some who used to read are deserting the reading front, new generations are not as strongly linked to books as people were in the past. I don’t know if we are loosing numbers, or if the reading squadrons are realigning. I believe technology is in the way of reading, yes, and so it’s TV. I am a reader and at times, if I switch to watching a TV series, or movie, my reading suffers. Reading requires a very different pace to life, and the distance gets bigger the more we gravitate to TV. But I’m not ready to say that TV and technology are that bad. I have learned from TV. Many may shake their heads, but TV shows and movies, like books, are not all the same. There’s a variance in the spectrum (books, TV, entertainment), from light, to what I’m going to call, copying Frenzen, substantial.
I think that, because I homeschool the girls, I started to read this way where I combine growth and enjoyment, together with challenging myself and discovering the classics (or some of those) to share them with my girls. Sometimes it takes us time to appreciate a book, others we click immediately, but we pick our books with a multiple goal approach, and to cover a variety of purposes. So, yes, back to the reading to live (and learn, grow, enjoy, shape our character…) I compare this to food taste too. I not always liked grapefruit. I kept trying, eating it, and nowadays, I love it. It may be a silly example, but I believe it’s true for books. And we don’t have to force ourselves to enjoy variety either. It’s just a matter of choosing a path, (sometimes finding it along the way), and maybe setting up some goals. Reading with others helps me always to stretch my boundaries, and I find treasures in unexpected places.
They say that we, modern readers, relate everything to ourselves. Not only, we put ourselves in front of the text constantly. I think it’s wonderful that we are so personalized in our reading, informed, and opinionated. We have many venues to express what we like, what we don’t, and we contribute to the talk about books. It doesn’t only have to be academics the ones talking about books. Any reader is qualified and entitled to her opinion. But I believe it’s good to know we all put ourselves in front of the book. Sometimes, for a change, it’d be good to try to let the text talk to us, without that urge to give an opinion about it. Just because we don’t understand every single word, or because the plot is moving slow, or the book is not of the genre we favor, we don’t have to close the doors to any possible relationship with it.
I like my friends who read, some of them are always worried or sad when they don’t seem to like a well established classic. It’s a practice I appreciate, that of trying to find redeeming qualities in books we don’t like, and to honestly ask those who do like that book to let us know what they see, find, or get from the book. I do that too. It enriches me, even if I still don’t like a book, I want to listen to what others think.
Who are we, then, 21st century readers? I believe we are survivors, peaceful crusaders, lonely rangers, book club peeps, education invested housewives, unsung heroes, devoted fathers, casual readers, substantial readers, children, tweens, and teens, swimming against the technological fast paced current fish, Goodreads members, library lovers, community builders, blog reviewers, paperback lovers, Kindle handlers, myth busters, some-titles-and-authors-intimidated, large minority, peculiar majority, ‘we, the readers’…
(fotos in this post by my friend Patrick)