Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Reading about reading

I've recently read a couple of books about reading, its influence on us as readers and how it can change us. Having read all my life - I can't remember actually learning to read, and had a career as a librarian, the subject of reading is fascinating to me, the why and how and what people read. Needless to say, the reasons people read are as varied as the people.  Stop What You're Doing and Read This is a collection of essays by a number of well-known writers, with a variety of views. Most had been avid readers since childhood, some could even remember learning to read and the approval of adults at achieving this skill. Some articles relate the influence certain books had on the authors' lives, while others discuss and describe the influence of libraries, or of reading more generally. The concluding article poses questions about the influence on our brains of modern technological innovations. Alan Jacobs' The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction also poses this question, which is , as yet, unanswered. We humans have since time began had a love of stories, and many men who seem to have a problem with reading a physical book  are reading all sorts of stories on Kindles, i-pads, tablets and similar reading devices. I bought a Kindle last year, to enable me to take more books away with me than I could cram physical objects in my suitcase, and find that when reading on it, I think I concentrate on the actual text more than I do when reading a physical object book.
Alan Jacobs' book is a more academic work, although not in a particularly academic style. He concentrates on the idea of reading for pleasure, at Whim,as he describes it, so is not a fan of reading lists. A book such as A 1000 books to Read Before You Die is one of his worst nightmares, as he reagrds ploughing through such list as drudgery, and I found myself agreeing vehemently. One of the most disappointing books I have is How To Read and Why, by the critic Harold Bloom. Apart from the few pages of the prologue, this is a list of books, poems and plays you should read and why they should be read. Nothing about reading these for pleasure, although Bloom does give this a mention in his prologue. One of the most useful aspects of libraries is the opportunity they give for serendipitous dipping into books, and chancing on something unexpected but which is intensely interesting., serendipity being another aspect of reading for pleasure which Alan Jacobs recommends.

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