Monday, October 23, 2006

A place to read

Inside HigherEd | A place to read

...We read everywhere — in every room in the house, under trees in our yards, in our offices, over in the library. Waiting for the dentist, we read. Taking a train or a plane, we have a magazine or a book in hand. (Or perhaps an audio book on our ears while driving.) I used to know a widely published critic who wrote while watching pro football on TV. His wife would joke about the spectacle of seeing him sitting before the set, books spread out all round him on a desk.

Lately, however, it’s seemed to me that the place of reading has become harder to establish. The ubiquitous video screens — in our dentist’s offices and our airplanes as well as our homes — represent the problem. Why read when you can look? To read a book has always been a choice. Just literally reading anywhere, it has always been possible to look up from the page. The video screens, however, substitute another source of visual attention that makes it unusually difficult to look down at the page.

Of course it remains possible to integrate the act of reading into just about any activity. Best, though, to enjoy the act quietly, undistracted, and alone. Where is this place to be found? For academics, the answer has been easy: lots of places, including the library, student union, or even at special groves or grottos — not to mention your office. The whole of a college or university campus, in fact (except perhaps the parking lots) can be defined as a location designed to enable reading. It’s not just reader-friendly. It’s reader-constitutive...

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