Sunday 19 May 2024

Why We Read / Shannon Reed


4 out of 5 stars 

I would venture a guess that most of us who gather here are capital R Readers. We read regularly and devotedly. It brings us joy, comfort, and, if we're very lucky, epiphanies about our lives. It is always a surprise to us when we encounter someone who considers reading a bore or a chore.

Shannon Reed teaches literature in Pittsburgh and sounds to me like she's damn good at it. She covers a lot of literary ground in this defense of reading for pleasure. Love of libraries and rare book rooms. Historical lit. Children's lit. Tear jerkers. Amish romances. Shakespeare and other playwrights. Mysteries. Contemporary fiction. Poetry. Vampire novels. Harry Potter. Memoir. She has read it all and recognizes that we will all have varying responses to it, but that knowledge of what you truly enjoy is valuable and may change as you advance through life.

I often found myself nodding along with her points. Lots of people do get hung up on capital L Literature, like her student who tried to establish his superiority to the other students by saying that Moby Dick was his favourite novel. The class smelled a rat and strongly suspected intellectual snobbery, which Reed discourages. Reed approves of audiobooks—they do count as reading. She also recommends going to performances of plays (or at least reading them aloud, preferably in groups) rather than reading them silently to oneself. She gives counsel to those of us freaked by horror: Lights on. Before 8 p.m. Have snacks. Write notes. Make sure there are other people around. I concur with these guidelines. If you have issues with a genre, give it multiple chances. Just because one novel/short story/poem doesn't work for you doesn't mean that all of them won't. (I have a friend who refuses to read vampire or zombie novels because of an author in that genre who offended her somehow. She has cut herself off from all that fun because of ONE author's behaviour!)

There's nothing wrong with loving a particular genre as long as you don't use it as a measuring tool to put down readers of other materials. I struggle with poetry, but haven't made the effort that Reed has to try to appreciate it. I have issues with many literary novels, which seem to me more like misery porn than like entertainment. But I occasionally visit that genre in search of one with meaning to me.

My mother was a Writer, so I have observed a writer in her natural habitat. Most of her writing took place in that zone of the day where the supper dishes were done and her kids were in bed. I found it perfectly natural to fall asleep to the sound of steady typing. She read a lot to fuel this habit. I've read voraciously since I learned the skill. But, having lived with a writer and studying them at conferences over the years, I have come to realize that I am a Reader (and, to a lesser extent, a Reviewer). There isn't a novel inside me trying to struggle its way out. I am not driven to write. But you know what? Writers require audiences and I am an enthusiastic member of that audience.

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