A new experience in reading?

May 25, 2011

By Tina Hovekamp, Library

First, I want to start with my favorite quote from a recent article  in The Chronicle of Higher Education in which the author, Randall Silvis, explains how he approaches a discussion about reading with his students  – this is a truly wonderful article everybody should read, and I would be more than happy to email it to you:

I do not tell them that being a human is a lonely, lonely business and that only a couple of things can assuage that loneliness. Loving someone is the best remedy, I do not tell them. Making music is good medicine too. And so is reading, another form of love-an act of faith and trust and desire, an act of reaching out and of coming together.

Silvis’ argument about reading as a way to experience and connect to the world is quite powerful and an inspiration to those who teach in the Humanities or in Writing.

In its latest report, Bowker, the company that does research and provides information on publishing trends in the U.S., is projecting that despite predictions and the popularity of e-books, traditional print publishing in 2010 grew by 5%. This 5% increase follows another 4% increase from the previous year. But if print is far from being dead, what are the reading trends such a growth represents?

Based on the report and continuing the trend seen last year, computers, science and technology were the leading areas of growth with major increases added to those subject areas from last year as people purchased information specifically for business and careers.  Categories that suffered double-digit declines include Literature (-29%), Poetry (-15%), History (-12), and Biography (-12%). Fiction, which remains the largest category (nearly 15% of the total) also dropped 3% from 2009, continuing its steady decline since 2007.

So, what do these trends actually mean in regards to our reading habits the way Silvis defines them? As he describes, “Reading Michael Ondaatje’s novel, …, puts me into that world, allows me to feel the desert’s desiccating heat, the sand fleas and gritty sand in my socks; sucks the moisture from my tongue and nostrils, stings my eyeballs, and sears the soles of my feet.”  If this is the type of reading that’s in decline, the one that actually stimulates our senses and even transforms our emotional state, then based on the reported publishing trends, we seem to be moving to an experience where reading is growing but is becoming more of an application-driven tool to help everyday skills and careers. Yes, technology and the new media are helping in this evolution and the shift in consumer interests, but clearly it is not the sole driving force in the publishing market. And although I do not wish to diminish the significance of such reading in helping us improve the practical aspects of our lives, I can’t help wondering if the evolution of our habits take us away from the thrills of a literary voyage into a more sterile world driven by the need to get “information pieces” rather than enrich our experiences in human nature and the world.

Have some book favorites to recommend?  Send them to me and I will post them on our blog for summer reading before the end of the term.