On reading

Recent acquisitions.

Recent acquisitions.

Two articles about reading captured my attention this week. The first, Will Schwalbe’s essay “The Need to Read” (WSJ, November 26), begins:

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?

3 thoughts on “On reading

  1. I think the idea that reading leads to discussion- with the book and myself and with other people- is why I’m always bothered by comments about how reading is solitary. Reading may appear to be non-engagment with society (and sometimes I’ve been known to read to avoid people.)But reading also leads to discussion and discussion leads to connections and ultimately to engagement with the larger world.

    I’m reading Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neill. And Laurie Halse Anderson’s young adult historical fiction trilogy (Chains, Forge, Ashes).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a close friend that now lives in another state. When we lived close to each other he and I would get together at least twice a month for breakfast or for a cigar and a long discussion about books. I really miss those times and have not found a replacement.

    It surprises me how many times I ask the question; “What are you reading?” And get answers loaded with guilt. Many of the people I interact with want to read and know they should read, they just don’t.

    Right now I am deep into a wonderful book called THE DARING HEART OF DAVID LIVINGSTONE. It’s about how Livingstone used the quest to confirm the source of the Nile as a way to bring an end to the African salve trade. It’s history but it almost reads like an adventure novel.

    I am also enjoying an excellent book called EGO IS THE ENEMY by a writer I recently discovered named Ryan Holiday. The foundation of the book is Stoicism. As a Christian, I engage the world–including books–through the filter of that worldview and while I don’t agree with all of the author’s reasoning and conclusions, I do see a lot of truth in the book and find it challenging and inspiring. I find it interesting how much of Stoic philosophy echoes Scripture.


  3. Pingback: Reading notes | ~ Nerdishly ~

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