Reading Rights

Magdalena Waz

I’m not going to lie. I was expecting emails to flood my inbox after my last column. I thought that everyone would be upset that I had declared “Imma Be” by the Black Eyed Peas one of the worst songs of the year. Apparently, you all agree.
Maybe the swings I’ve been taking at all kind of cultural products have been too wide. Perhaps I’m not specific enough. I’d like to take the time in this column to blame you, the students of Lawrence University – myself included – for the decline in the interest in reading.
We’re all probably angry about something. It seems that once every couple of months a member of a group or team complains about lack of interest or a lack of support in the pages of this newspaper. A letter to the editor often appears the next week, citing busy schedules and everyone having “their own thing” as the reason for this misdiagnosed ambivalence.
It is absolutely possible that our tiny campus has stretched itself too thin. Often, students are involved in many activities, and the second they have a sliver of free time, instead of thinking “which of my classmates should I support in their endeavor to do _____?” they revel in the fact that they can do nothing for a minute. That’s all well and good. I understand this desire just as much as you do.
Once, I was tying my shoes, getting ready to leave for a lecture I wasn’t particularly interested in, and my roommate said, “You’re only going to this lecture because you think that if you do nice things for people they’ll do nice things back.” At the time, I adamantly disagreed. I held that I was going because I had to take advantage of all the opportunities this campus had to offer.
I was probably lying. I did think that if I showed up, supported, let everyone know that I cared, students would value that and support me, too. I know that’s not quite the way it works. But I sure did spend a lot of time doing things I was in no way obliged to do in the hopes that someone would pick up a Tropos and read a story or poem – not even one of mine – months down the line.
Reading is a solitary pursuit. It involves being alone somewhere, which is not a condition we see as ideal when we only have four years with our friends in college. But writing doesn’t have to be solitary. The deliberate act of recording your thoughts means that you want to share them. But why bother if not one person on this campus seems to value that?
I am not asking for your support. This isn’t necessarily about Tropos again. This is about that wider problem that people hint at but never articulate. We care mainly about ourselves. Even acts of support are selfish acts. We don’t read because we don’t write. Where is the payoff if you’re only doing something nice for someone else? I’m simplifying, but I also get the feeling I’m not too far off the mark.