Sunday, May 31, 2009

Reading Isn't Dead After All

An article in today's Washington Post tells us that reading isn't dead after all--old fashioned reading, the reading of books.

But it's not fabulous news for poets; people are reading romance novels in increasing numbers. In fact, the romance novel seems to be the only category gaining sales.

I take the same stance on this as I do with my students. I've always told them, "I don't care what you're reading, as long as you're reading."

And I understand the appeal of romance novels. Once I had a lesbian friend who delighted in romances of all kinds. I asked her if her inner militant separatist lesbian disapproved. She explained that she liked knowing that she was going to get a happy ending. It let her relax as she read.

I've heard similar comments from mystery readers--they know the world will be made right at the end of the book, so they can take whatever plot twists come their way.

Of course, some of us take a similar solace in rereading. I'm a few days late to this New York Times article, which extols the pleasures of revisting beloved books: "The real secret of re-reading is simply this: It is impossible. The characters remain the same, and the words never change, but the reader always does. Pip is always there to be revisited, but you, the reader, are a little like the convict who surprises him in the graveyard — always a stranger."

After all, didn't we do that as children? My nephew will choose the same book, over and over again, for a bedtime story. I used to revisit all my favorite childhood books, year after year. Only a more rigorous required reading in high school and college put a stop to this practice. I've often yearned for children, simply because I could revisit those books and games and movies.

I think it's wonderful that people are returning to reading, even as many of us never left. I think it's wonderful that we have so many more reading options. I think that even poetry is viable, although in a way that capitalism wouldn't declare a triumph. Go here to read or listen to a story about the poetry economy. Those of us who have been practicing poets for awhile won't find much new. I found it heartwarming anyway. And the recession haiku challenge turned up some interesting nuggets.

I like to think of myself as a medieval monk, dedicated to an art form that the world doesn't see as important, but that later generations will celebrate its salvation.

1 comment:

Shefali Shah Choksi said...

i agree with this: there is comfort in knowing how things are going to end. i am re-reading a book i'd read when i was in my mid-teens, and i find the Pip-and-the-convict metaphor very apt.
do you think i somehow inhaled derrida at an impressionable age, and so i feel there is no singular interpretatino possible, since we are not static readers?
goodness, i hope not!