We all ask each other a lot of questions. But we should all ask one question a lot more often: “What are you reading?”
One of my favorite questions! Unfortunately, it can yield a crop of disappointing answers, including, “Oh, I don’t have much time for reading.”
Receiving a title or genre in response to the query is no guarantee that disappointment won’t soon follow, either. “I just read for entertainment” and “Oh, don’t over-analyze it” are two of my least favorite follow-up responses. Both seem designed not only to end what could have been a vibrant interaction but to dismiss and disparage me for being keen to explore. “Over”-analyze? Because I compared one novel to another? Because I wondered if you’d seen so-and-so’s review? Because I quoted a line or asked if you thought the closing paragraphs were effective?
My family spends a great deal of time talking about books — and, for that matter, movies, plays, art, television programs, and music. We describe what works for us and what doesn’t. We compare one book (or author or director or actor or artist) to another and stitch thematically similar works together — all in an ongoing conversation about what each of us is reading, thinking, learning, doing, and seeing. Over the last decade, we have been able to approach some works multiple times: Shakespeare’s plays, for example; LOST and Sherlock; Fargo and Soylent Green; the exhibits of many museums. This deepens and colors our discussion. More valuable to me than nearly all that we own is this mental treasure map of our shared experiences and memories, complete with its legend, comments, and annotations.
If that’s “over”-analysis, I am guilty, I guess. It’s funny, though, because, to me? That’s just good talking.
Here is another passage:
Books are uniquely suited to helping us change our relationship to the rhythms and habits of daily life in this world of endless connectivity. We can’t interrupt books; we can only interrupt ourselves while reading them. They are the expression of an individual or a group of individuals, not of a hive mind or collective consciousness. They speak to us, thoughtfully, one at a time. They demand our attention. And they demand that we briefly put aside our own beliefs and prejudices and listen to someone else’s. You can rant against a book, scribble in the margin or even chuck it out the window. Still, you won’t change the words on the page.
The other article is “A Plea for Reading in College” (Forbes, November 30):
I’m not saying that everyone should read a prescribed core of “great books” or that not enjoying reading automatically makes you suspect. However, one of the great advantages of reading, aside from the activity itself, is how it develops one’s imaginative powers. Whether in fiction or non-fiction, entering into a dialogue with characters and authors widens a reader’s perceptions of the world, a condition that greatly increases an individual’s ability to grasp the complexities that surround us, at the same time interacting with them and creating new forms and ideas.
Both articles compare the act of reading to a discussion: “They speak to us…” “You can rant against a book…” “[E]ntering into a dialogue with character and authors widens a reader’s perceptions of the world….”
So. I’m not “over”-analyzing. I’m reading, thinking, learning, and talking.
And you? What are you reading?