Weekend Reading: four pieces about reading

Weekend Reading is a weekly collation of 3-5 articles that have caught my attention, published on Saturday mornings. Previous editions can be found here.

1. What does it mean for a journalist today to be a Serious Reader? (Columbia Journalism Review)

In second grade, our class was drilled on the Food Pyramid, a guide to the proportions of food groups in a balanced diet. Could that sort of pyramid be crafted for the mind, listing the ideal daily servings of, let’s say, news, commentary, criticism, science, history, poetry, and fiction? Perhaps it could be updated periodically for subject matter—the correct balance of what a responsible citizen should learn about race, gender, class, war, faith, and so on. As a teen, Christopher Hitchens was a voracious but directionless reader, later recalling, “I was too brittle to decide among so many possible treats.” If only he had a Serious Reading Pyramid, right?

Most journalists with enviable reading routines would never dream of following such a model. Adam Gopnik loves reading cookbooks, collections of letters, and James Bond novels—pleasures, but not guilty ones. “If you can tolerate one piece of advice,” he says, “it’s don’t segregate the great continuum of reading.”

“To be a good reader, paradoxically, doesn’t mean being a discriminating reader, it means being an omnivorous reader,” he explains. “You never know what will grab you.”

2. School is No Place for a Reader (Canadian Notes & Queries)

I have read a great deal in these pages and elsewhere about the demise of a literary sensibility and the dwindling number of discerning and independent-minded readers, not only among the population at large, but also, and more inexcusably, among university students, professors, publishers and critics. We are reaping a crop sown in the soil of elementary school, fertilised with Scholastic pseudo-book order forms, literacy texts, and reading logs, and grown in the glass house of bookless classrooms and school libraries converted into computer labs.

3. Why you should build a library (Aletia.org)

Again, this library is not for me alone. It is also designed as a refuge for my daughters. Only seven and ten years old, they have already moved their favorite books to the shelves they were allowed to pick out for themselves. […] But in truth, I hope the library is a room they will find as magical as I found the basement of my childhood home where my dad erected shelf after shelf (at that time, just wood planks on drilled in metal support structures) for my mom’s countless books. I hope they will look at row upon row of bindings, pull a book out, thumb through it and put it back only to pick up another. I hope they judge a book by its cover and someday read it only to realize how much more was inside. And perhaps in seeing so many books on G.K. Chesterton or Flannery O’Connor, Winston Churchill or Edmund Burke, Pope Benedict XVI or William Shakespeare, they will ask me why I like them, why they matter and what they did…

4. Why College Kids Are Avoiding the Study of Literature (Commentary Magazine)

In each of these interest-killing approaches—the technical, the judgmental, and the documentary—true things are said. Of course literature uses symbols, provides lessons in currently fashionable problems, and can serve as a document of its times. The problem is what these approaches do not achieve.

They fail to give a reason for reading literature.