I have been thinking quite a bit lately about the act of reading and more specifically about the significance of the material that we choose to read. A recent OnFiction blog post compares the statement of “You are what you eat” to the idea that “You are what you read”. Do I really believe this? If I do, what does my lack of literary discrimination say about me? When I was younger, I was an obsessed bookworm who would read anything that I could get my hands on : Anne of Green Gables, Kipling’s Just so Stories, the Babysitters’ Club, my mom’s Women’s Weekly magazine, etc. As long as I was reading then I was content. Over the years I haven’t changed, I went on to get a BA in French and Quebec literature at Université Laval. I am proud to say that I’ve not only read Marcel Proust but I understood him well enough to enjoy the experience. Yet, I love laughing out loud to Sophie Kinsella and *gasp*, have been known to read the occasional Harlequin. How is this possible??? Last summer, I went through a horrible break-up and read nothing but self-help books like Better Single than Sorry by Jen Schefft. This summer, I’m embracing my ecological side and my favourite summer read has been Car Sick : Solutions for a Car-addicted Culture by Lynn Sloman. Maybe the conclusion is that I’m a very complex person and that my schizophrenic-like taste in reading material responds to the diverse interests of my personality.
What does your reading say about you?
One of my projects this summer at my library job with the federal government is to create information capsules to promote the library’s e-resources. For this project, I am working in collaboration with a colleague who is quite a bit older than myself (all right, she’s my mom’s age!). Since our objective is to create material that will catch the user’s attention when it is sent by email, my first draft included catchy titles, bright colours, and a “virtual librarian”. I was told by my colleague that while my approach was essentially great for younger users, I needed to appeal also to the tastes of people in her generation who prefer calm colours and a more professional look. After which she said we were “not running a daycare”. Am I completely in left field to think that bright colours and lots of visuals are eye-catching and appealing no matter what generation you belong to? I honestly believe that the e-resources offered by our library are very cool and I want the federal government workers to as well. However, I’m having a hard time imagining users of any generation, BabyBoomers included, being enticed to use the library’s e-resources if we send out capsules using a shade of green most commonly found on hospital walls.
Can some differences of opinion be blamed on the generational gap? Where do we draw the line?
For a final paper for a summer class at McGill’s School of Information Studies (SIS), I was asked to contemplate the question of the demise of reading. I argued that rather than the demise of reading, we should be considering the evolution of reading since forms of reading and writing have been evolving for longer than millennia. Even Socrates lamented an evolution in the popularity of writing that he felt ““[gave] only the semblance of truth; [students] will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality” .
The topic of my paper came about from “Reading at Risk” a report from 2004 on the decline of reading in America and in its 2007 follow-up report “To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence”. In these reports the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) predicts the demise of literary reading as a leisure activity within half a century. However, much like Socrates, the NEA’s reports rely on an obvious preference for the status quo; a narrow definition of reading that focuses on the reading of fiction in print format for leisure purposes.
I argued that with the incredible transformations that have occurred in the 21st century society due to the invention of the internet, it is unrealistic to expect that the concept of reading remain the same as it was in past centuries. Thanks to the popularity of Web 2.0, the tendency of passive reading has evolved into a reading-writing relationship. People are now participating in communities of dialogue where formats like blogs and on-line editorials allow readers to interact with authors and with other readers.
Of course upon reading these comments my dad argued that when he read, he did not wish to participate in a dialogue but rather he reads as a form of escapism, to become lost in a good story with intriguing characters. I agree that there is a lot of be said for this act of escapism. Why else would I and so many other people be addicted to Sophie Kinsella books? However, as a future librarian, I cannot assume that this form of reading will remain popular throughout my entire career. I admit that I prefer a good novel like the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer to any blog posts I’ll read, but I recognize that librarians must be ready for whatever evolution in reading comes their way. Unlike the NEA, I will not sit back and cry that people aren’t “reading” anymore. I will be ready to meet the needs of my future patrons, but perhaps I will keep a stack of good novels in my back room, just in case!