Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Reading as virtue
Working all these years at a Library I have experienced many a comment and reference to the idea of reading as ennobling and virtuous. And though I am strongly pulled by the desire to fawn over you for reading this, sing your virtues for struggling through my illuminating and visionary prose to elevate your humanity, I have some hesitations. It might have something to do with all these years spent in the thick of a very busy public library. My overwhelming impression, standing in the heart of this maelstrom of reading, is not one of Profound enricher of Humanity but more of the Circus part of Bread and Circuses. Even if we're talking about Proust, we are just talking about stories, which are basically entertainment. I'm not saying it's a waste of time, or worthless, or even not wonderful, but I do think the whole reading thing may have suffered a bit from having a cadre of the most eloquent, articulate, and beautifully spoken people in the history of the universe constantly shilling for it. Writers. And I think these writer people have been just a touch over invested in reading's stock. So we've all gotten a bit puffed up over it. I see it all the time at the front desk. Someone proudly coming to check out a few books, presenting me with a little speech about loving books and how no one understands how essential they are anymore. "If only more people would read!" They exclaim, tsking at others and bathing in the beatific glow of their readerliness. I nod politely. I hope they enjoy their Swann's Way or, more likely, LaVyrle Spencer books or Post Apocalyptic Zombie Detective Story. Why shouldn't they. Stories are blood. Stories are essential. Stories make us human! Which, I am sorry to say, is a very good reason for tempering our pride.