Saturday, December 28, 2013
200 books, or, who do we read for?
So now I'm thinking about the difference between quality and quantity. My husband pointed out that this total means I finished a book more frequently than every other day all year. Is that excessive? Is that indicative of a failure to choose difficult, long, substantial, and therefore culturally-edifying books? I worry that in advertising "I read 200 whole books this year!" I might be implying that I've been reading for the sake of numbers rather than content. And yes, I can make the disclaimer that about 50 of those books were hard-core academic texts on things like political uses of Beethoven's 9th symphony or the credit-based economy of sixteenth and seventeenth-century England. But on the other hand, is a disclaimer needed at all? Should I give one; should I feel a need to?
Do we read for others, or for ourselves?
Why can't it be a mix of the two? I read a lot of children's books this year - about 100 - and this was just because I wanted to, because I knew that they would be a nice break from the constant higher-level thinking I'm asked to do as a graduate student. But at the same time, reading this children's lit provided some interesting topics of conversation throughout the year, most notably at a recent dinner party, during which we all discussed childhood favorites. That evening even led to a personal request from one of my husband's professors for recommendations for YA fiction that would serve as a nice gift for his wife. Reading so much children's literature has meant that I talk about it more frequently, and as it turns out, many in our society LOVE talking about which kid's or young adult books they still think about. Reading kid's books for myself has resulted in a whole lot of opportunities for others to share their own experiences with me.
Conversely, I read the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy this year specifically because these books were a big deal and it seemed like everyone was raving about or criticizing them. I wanted to know what everyone was talking about and be able to participate in discussions - and indeed, I've had a few conversations about them since. But while I read those books for others, I unexpectedly found that they sparked my own contemplation of origins, reception histories, and incomplete consumption of related works meant to be received as a whole - ideas that have carried through into my academic scholarship. In both of these examples, then, my reading ended up being both for me and for others.
How do we navigate the reality that our private reading has public results? (I don't actually have any answers for this, but it's been interesting to think about.)
In the meantime, I'll choose to be excited that I read 200 books, all of which impacted me in some small way, and many of which led to really fascinating conversations.