I’ve been reading a lot about reading lately.
We’re told it’s good for us, that it’s crucial for editors, that we’re losing our ability to do it.
Reading is something I take completely for granted. To be able to function – to understand road signs, prices at the store, medication labels, the crawl on TV news – not to mention texts and social media – we have to be able to read. Here in the U.S., we automatically teach of our children to read. We worry about how soon they start reading, fuss over whether they’re reading enough, and compare standardized reading scores in our schools and across the world.
But when did everybody start reading all the time? A thousand years ago, reading in Western culture was pretty much limited to priests and monks. When did it stop being a privilege and begin to be a necessity?
And how has technology across the centuries transformed how much we read, what we read, and how we read it? Gutenberg’s moveable type led to an explosion of reading, and today’s devices are also making an impact on what, when, and how we read. I’ve laughed at postings of an 1800s screed about the dangers of women reading novels and neglecting their families, but how does that differ from today’s social media addiction?
Another compelling strand in this knot is the notion that having books around is beneficial, even if you know you can never read them all – maybe especially then. They are aspirational on the one hand, and on the other, they remind you that you can’t know it all, and therefore keep you humble.
My reading about reading has made me want to read much more about reading. And then do some writing. I’ve planned a writing retreat for next month to work on this, so stay tuned!