Thursday, February 18, 2016

On Not Reading

Recently at work I listened to two women talk proudly about how they don't read books. Another friend told me the same week "I read a lot in high school....until I realized I didn't have to. Then I stopped."

For me, reading is as essential as sleep. Without reading, I feel trapped in my own brain, stuck on a loop. Intense and temporary feelings sometimes overwhelm me, until a book shows me that the world is bigger than my current situation, and that others have faced the same challenges without falling apart.

Also, I'm a librarian passionately committed to literacy and continuing self-education. People, even valued friends, tell me "Oh, I never read books" and I don't know how to react, except with pity and a twinge of contempt (sorry).

Today I read about Kanye West, who said

Sometimes people write novels and they just be so wordy and so self-absorbed," West said. "I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book's autograph. 
"I am a proud non-reader of books. I like to get information from doing stuff like actually talking to people and living real life," he said.
from Snopes 
That's great, Kanye. I hope next time you want to learn about history you can find a knowledgeable professor willing to listen to your craziness. Books are the conversation we hold with the dead. They do often contain a lot of words, and are usually about a self that is not you, the reader.

So here is the very dead C.S. Lewis talking:
Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realize it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a dog.
An Experiment in Criticism 

Also, can we ponder for a moment the irony of Kanye West accusing novelists of being "wordy and so self-absorbed"? His wife's newest book, after all, is titled Selfish. Though to her credit, she didn't use many words....

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