This morning, a friend sent me the link to Timothy Egan's blog on the New York Times site. The title of the post was Book Lust, and in the post, Mr. Egan rebutted Steve Jobs's pronouncement that “the fact is that people don’t read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year.”
Mr. Egan argues that all of the cool gadgets—including those we might use to read—are just product, and "Reading is something else, an engagement of the imagination with life experience. It’s fad-resistant, precisely because human beings are hard-wired for story, and intrinsically curious. Reading is not about product."
Hard-wired for story.
He goes on to say that "a good book still holds more power than anything with a screen. Power to transport the reader to another world. Power to get inside somebody else's mind, to live their story, to be moved."
Power to transport the reader to another world.
When I read through the post, three things came up:
How did he use the title "Book Lust" and not say anything about Nancy Pearl, who has written two volumes of recommended reading called Book Lust and who even has her own action figure and who would have quite elegantly supported his argument? (A former librarian has her own action figure, but we aren't reading books?)
Maybe some people aren't reading a lot of books, but maybe they're reading magazines or reading online (several comments on the blog pointed this out) and other people are reading a lot. In the article, 15 books a year was listed as a high mark. I tend to think of 12 as the low mark, and that doesn't include poetry (granted, when my children were younger, it took me a few years to work up to 12).
I'm more concerned by an often talked about trend among writers, who think that they shouldn't read. I've heard that this includes fiction writers and poets who are concerned that if they read it will somehow taint their imagination or sully their style. The argument is then made that if writers aren't reading, who is, and how can the poor publishers hope to sell any books and stay afloat?
For me, reading is very important. Reading poetry is key. It gets me in the zone. But that might not work for everybody. Still, if you're worried that reading might harm your art, buy books anyway. You don't have to read them. Just buy them and give them away. Take them to schools. Leave them in waiting rooms. Leave the in bars, even. Support publishers. Support your local bookstore.
Reading is active and it is escape—or exploration. "Power to transport the reader to another world." Or power to see the world you thought you knew from a different perspective.
Several years ago, someone described me as "a poet of place." Instantly, I felt self-conscious and could not write about anywhere. It was as though I felt I had to somehow represent place in my poems, and I had to be a poet of place.
I've let go of that, and by reading other poets' work, I've come to a better understanding of my relationship to place.
Lately, I think it all goes back to the Troll House. I had one when I was a kid, and it was a perfect little world, sort of Flintstones-like, with a little table and a bed and a rug and a fire, and I could imagine that world. I could go there.
I get the same feeling looking at a painting. I feel drawn into that world, and I want to go there.
Thinking about those different worlds and wanting to create them and be a part of them has given me a better understanding of my relationship to place in my poems. It's about being in those worlds and belonging in them.
That's why I write, and that's why I read.