Reading Rights

Magdalena Waz

I do not want this to be a tired complaint about nobody reading anymore. I know people, including myself, don’t, and I also know that there is some irony in expressing those sentiments in writing.
Times are tough, though. The reading of fiction has been relegated to classrooms and old people. It is either a painful chore or a pleasure to be enjoyed after retirement – after the real work has been done. Alternately, for those of us who are neither here nor there, reading is something we are compelled to do by a force that has all but disappeared. That force could perhaps be described as a desire to participate in contemporary culture.
What is The New York Times Best-Seller List if not a chore for people who need to be sure that they have a passing familiarity with the current titles so that they have something to talk about with the people who are doing the exact same thing? These are the people who walk into Borders, scowling, still in their work clothes. They have eyes for one thing and one thing only: the new Dan Brown novel. In line, they scowl at the back cover. As a bestseller, the book is 30 percent off. Satisfied, these people leave for home. The book gets tucked dutifully under the arm along with the paper that recommended it.
And if I object to this, am I suggesting that reading done for something other than pleasure is not reading at all? No. I don’t think I am. What I do object to is the blind acceptance of reading material considered to be necessary in order for one to keep up. There are many examples of this and many ways in which it is an inevitable feature of our society. But I read the “Twilight” series. I read the books because there was a fuss. The people making the fuss were, of course, fans and people surprised by the novels’ success. In order to get angry about the success, I had to read the books.
I would like to say that this is unfair. Instead of finding things that I like to read, I spent time making sure that what I was about to make fun of definitely deserved it. It’s stupid, but I’m the only one who forced me into doing it.
This is my rather long-winded attempt at saying that, in this new weekly column, I’ll be writing about reading, but not about specific books and their quality or why we should be reading them. My questions will revolve around how we do the reading we do, and what our reading or non-reading means, especially in relation to other forms of entertainment.
For example, lately I’ve heard a lot of talk about our generation being a particularly visual one. This statement always seems to rest on the assumption that our imaginations are not what they used to be, which is why film has replaced books. It doesn’t make sense to look at these two things as inherently opposed to each other. But it makes sense to wonder why they are constructed that way.