I was working on this great C.O.M. (Cranky Old Man) rant for this week’s column about how technology was making us all more isolated. It was a nice rant, too – it started with the Luddite vision of how, in the old days, people sang together or told stories in order to entertain themselves. It was a group thing and it bound people together. The rant then traced how technology – movies to begin with – changed us from participants to observers and then radio changed it into small family sized units until it was replaced by TV. The rant went on – oh, how it went on – about how the dawning of iPods and cell phones and texting and the Internet was further fracturing us into isolated units and blah blah blah. Really, I was working up a nice head of steam.
Then I looked at what I was doing. At this. At words such as these on the screen or printed on a page. Usually written by one person and then read by one person. What we’re doing, right now, you and I. Reading, in general, is an isolated act, a solitary pleasure. It made mincemeat of my rant.
Are there caveats to the notion of reading as a solitary pleasure? Sure. When something is “read out loud,” it’s “read” by more than one. To me, however, “reading out loud” comes more under the heading of. The “readers” are not reading; they’re listening. I bet if you hooked up a CAT scan device, you would find different parts of the brain lit up. Why? Reading translate symbols into images; “reading out loud” translates sound. They’re related but they’re different activities.
Can a story or article be co-written? Sure. I’ve done that. My experience, however, is that sooner or later each writer works on his/her version of the work alone. I’ve done things in a group as it tries to reach consensus and I found it excruciating. Maybe you can do a mission statement or an ad slogan like that, but that’s not the type of writing I’m discussing.
Reading is a solitary pleasure and is as old as the novel itself. The medium by which we read – be it a printed page or one them new fancy electronic readers that Amazon and others have – is secondary in this consideration. I was solitary as a boy. That would surprise many I know today. My twin brother was the outgoing one. I, however, loved nothing so much as to curl up with a stack of books and become immersed in them.
Despite my initial thesis, this didn’t make me less sociable, I think. On having read a good book, my first inclination is to go out and tell others about it, to share it, and if I find others who have also read the book, I love to talk about it with them. I don’t know how many books I’ve lent out over the years, many often never returning. Unless it’s something rare, I really don’t mind. I’m considering the sort of “loan” where the reader doesn’t have to return the book but promise to pass it on to someone else, making them promise the same thing as well.
This impulse is why we recommend books to others, the way Denny O’Neil does in his column every week. Reading is a solitary pleasure but the enjoyment is infectious. For me, it’s not only fiction but biography, history, philosophy, theology or what have you. My bottom line criterion is the same – the writer has to know how to really write, to draw the reader in, to make us want to read the next word, the next sentence, the next paragraph, the next chapter. I believe that when I find that writer, I’ve found a kindred spirit – someone who also loves to read.
Who do you know that’s like that? Who have you read – old or new – that gives you that solitary pleasure? Why do they give you that pleasure? That’s this week’s comment section, my friends. High lit, low lit, comics, short stories, novels, poetry, histories, biographies – what have you read that gives you pleasure and why?
John Ostrander writes GrimJack: The Manx Cat, new installments of which appear every Tuesday here on ComicMix, and much of Munden’s Bar, new installments of which will reappear anon here on ComicMix. Both for free. His new Suicide Squadmini-series is out there from DC Comics, and his Star Wars: Legacy is out there from Dark Horse, both at finer comics shops across the galaxy.