It is a truth universally known that reading is a solitary endeavour…
unless you happen to have a smart phone and like-minded bookish friends. Today’s post will be an attempt to examine with some hilarity and irreverence the ways in which reading has changed as an activity. And I might continue talking/writing like this because I’ve almost read 2000 words worth of historical mysteries over the course of the past four days. I am nothing if not manic in my obsessions.
If one were to think of reading in the past, one would construct an image of a drafty library, an ill-lit drawing room (hmm, why are all images of historical reading that spring to mind situated in the West…now I have given myself something to think about) or bedroom along with a reader, usually a white male or female, reading by her/himself. (We really do need more images of POC reading.)
Right, I had a purpose before I derailed myself and now I don’t know what I’m talking about. Give a moment.
One of my aunts once said rather unkindly about my teenage self, “Akele ghusa rahena book leke!” Which translated means (without the acerbic or admonishing tone present in the original text) “You are always holed up alone with a book!” And when I lived in the wilds of Viti Levu, that was true because I had no computer, no smart phones and no other person who understood my passion where books are concerned. (I don’t know what else she expected me to do? Sugarcane fields are amusing only up to a certain age and there was little else to do.)
I’m still always in possession of a book but no longer is reading a solitary venture. I have friends I text when I come upon a particularly delicious passage or twist in a book, Twitter where I can ‘live read’ as long as I avoid spoilers (honestly, I never ‘live read’ because it is annoying and people do it annoy me enough for me to mute them), and Goodreads (and other places like it) where you can share your thoughts on a book you are currently reading (called reading updates) or review those you have already read. You can comment on or invite comments on the books you are reading.
Reading has become a lot more of a social activity than it used to be.
Which brings me (albeit belatedly) to my next point or rather question which I shall attempt (to some degree) to explore: How has the change in the ways we read affected what we get out of reading?
I realize that this question is layered and hints at multiple aspects of the reading experience that I am not even going to come close to answering but if you will indulge me and focus simply on the story or knowledge gleaned from books, I think the discussion could be substantial.
Obviously discussion of books and ideas extrapolated from books whether fiction or non has always been a matter of course but I dare say that reading uninterrupted whether intentionally or not does cause a person to experience the story in different ways. For instance, I am currently in the throes of Lady Julia’s mysteries by Deanna Raybourn and I frequently pause my reading to crow about something to a friend who enjoys them as much as I do. My reading experience is enhanced by her enthusiasm. Would my reading experience be different were I to read the books in isolation? I think I would still enjoy them but in a different way. Just like I enjoy books I review in a different way compared to the books I don’t. The books I review I deconstruct and…if I have enjoyed them, the reviewing experience is like sucking the marrow out of bone to enjoy every bit of the meat (haha, sorry Yash) but if I didn’t like the book, it is akin to prolonging or drawing out an unpleasant affair like cleaning out a chicken coop (i have done that and it’s a horrid horrid thing).
Things like bookstagram, book-tumblr, and other social media platforms that allow readers to come out and admit their bibliophile nature cannot be a bad thing. We are modern readers and our reading appetites are voracious; stories and ideas become products and we consume them ferociously. I think reading becomes something more now that it’s no longer something necessarily done in isolation (reading parties, people, that sounds brilliant); reading is no longer something exclusive to the realm of bluestockings or scholars but something that people willfully engage in. I honestly think that this age’s biggest achievement is widespread literacy. Obviously there are places and people where it is still lacking but literacy is more common than not. I think reading breaks down barriers between societies, countries and people. Whether it is done in isolation or in a group.
Okay I admit it, this is a much scattered post and my points are random and not as coherent as I had hoped them to be but I still hope you enjoyed them.