I read. I collect books and I read. I don’t read as often as I should nor as ravenously as I did when I was 11 but I can do, when I want to and when I tell the outside world to carry on without me.
I am an email subscriber to LitHub, the online literary magazine that promotes reading, thought, ideas, literature, all the good stuff. I read it, if not daily, then sub-daily, weekly, and in great chunks. I wish I read it regularly, in the mornings over coffee. Do people do that? Or is it a situation of my imagination? I hope they do. I hope that there is in the world someone wo reads LitHub over coffee every morning; to know that there is in this slightly-off-kilter world a place, even if it is just one desk in one home, where someone opens the laptop lid, takes the coffee cup in hand, and enjoys both, simultaneously, enriching soul and caffiene habit.
But today this article, entitled ‘The Truth of Ray Bradbury’s Prophetic Vision’ appeared in my FB LitHub news feed and struck me as something I ought to have read and ought to have known before now. And so it is with so much: I feel I ought to have known it and then the shame of not knowing it and then ensues the not-very-subtle argument with myself about becoming a better person. But what a hubristic approach to literature and learning.
This article intrigued me not because of its Science Fictional leanings (I confess I have never given William S. Burroughs his fair due) but because of what it says about reading. As a teacher I promoted reading in every way I could, including the subversive ways, which included condoning Harry Potter at the Evangelical School and turning a blind eye when students underlined passages in school copies of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby.
I miss the classroom and what I miss most is the discussion and the critical learning brought on by critical mass: that series of moments in which no one knows what we’re talking about and then, suddenly, we all do. It’s a wonderful thing and while it cannot be entirely planned, it can be sculpted, it can be drawn out when conditions are right. It is akin to using one’s sail: it is impossible if there is no wind, but when a wind arises, do not expect the sail to do any of the work: it is the sailor’s job. So the teacher’s when the students are alive (to the wind in their cognitive sails).
The line in the article of most rich significance, in my view, is this, the last one:
Why bother to ban books when people voluntarily ignore them? Books don’t have to be hunted to extinction. Books die as a result of our taking them for granted. As the world of books steadily shrinks publisher by publisher, shop by shop, library by library and reader by reader, the result is the same. Only here and there, powerless to resist the general momentum of society, do a few people remain who love literature enough to try somehow to preserve it. So perhaps Bradbury suggests, at the end of this dark fable, all is not lost. Not quite.
I want to believe that there are more than a few of us left, but I know enough about humanity and the difficulties of literature to believe there is a great readership out there–especially in America at this moment.
The article is pinned below, and I encourage you to peruse it, if only to buck the trends that say our reading habits are confied to social platforms and easy news. And if you want to grab a cup of coffee, you just go right ahead. LitHub away.