Sunday, November 25, 2007

Reading just for fun

There was an article in this week's New York Times magazine by Virginia Heffernan called "In Defense of Lurking: Solitary consumption, not interactivity, may be the best thing about the Web."

In the article, Ms. Heffernan confesses to lurking a lot on the web. She likens it to taking without giving. However, she also makes the point that lurking isn't exactly new. "This practice of anonymously sitting back and taking in long sequences of words without producing any yourself? Hey, wasn't it once called, perhaps, 'reading'?"

She refers to the National Endowment for the Arts' survey that reported less than half of the population of adult Americans read literature in their leisure time. But, wait! says she. What about reading literature when it isn't a leisure activity? Some adult Americans read literature for work.

Furthermore, hasn't reading for fun become sort of, well, shameful? Aren't we wasting valuable time when we could be learning something? And then she says, "Even Harlequin readers, according to Janice Radway's superb 1987 study "Reading the Romance," praise the books they read as education: aspirational love stories evidently double as seminars in subjects like wine, furs, tiramisu and Tuscany."

Passing over the disparaging, disrespectful subtext to that particular quote (which seems to be "bless their poor, simple little minds") for a moment, I have to say, I think Ms. Heffernan is on to something here, and that is the notion that reading simply for pleasure, not education or "enlightenment" has become somehow bad. Never mind that reading for fun might reduce stress or make you a happier person. No, no! Reading for fun bad, reading to learn good.

I think there are two other reasons people are reluctant to either read for sheer pleasure, or admit they do.

It's a solitary pastime. Heaven forbid, in this day and age when people can't seem to walk down the street without having to tell somebody via cellphone where they are every single minute, that you choose to do anything alone. Talking to people (about anything) good, reading about people bad.

Reading is sedentary. I know people read while on treadmills, but a lot of the time, you're sitting. And sitting is bad. Exercise is good. I can't argue with that, although I think of reading as exercising the imagination. Still, sitting bad, activity good.

Nevertheless, and in spite of the efforts to make reading a guilty pleasure, I'm not buying into the guilt. I like to read for fun. Always have, always will. It relaxes me and makes me a happier, better person who's more pleasant to be around.

And perhaps Ms. Hefferner should consider that Harlequin readers might have made such comments as a defense, to prevent other people from making disparaging, disrespectful comments about their reading choices.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take the excellent book I'm reading just for fun (SON OF THE SHADOWS by Juliet Marillier), make myself a tea and read for awhile.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your post reminded me of a conversation long ago with a young woman who was forbidden to read that "trash"; she told me that she liked that the men always married and respected the women in the books (okay, the genre has changed somewhat, but in years past, if you kissed them, you married them, and there was no mention of previous partners) and that she knew from the books what touches were appropriate.

I left that conversation feeling very sad that (1) she had to learn about the physical aspects of a man-woman relationship from romances (my parents were forever kissing and holding hands) and that (2) she had no idea how rarely life turned out like the books.

Now I see that in a different light -- maybe it was better that her very repressed parents didn't bother trying to explain something they didn't openly show or speak on, and that maybe she held out for her storybook ending and got it (I don't know, sadly). Afterall, if that is what she took away from romances, HALLELUJAH!