“How readest thou?”
Christ crucified, Lancelot Andrewes tells us in a marvellous sermon is “liber charitatis, the book of love, opened to us” to read. How do we read?
It is a pressing contemporary question. How do we read? There has been a virtual explosion of books about the marvel and the miracle of reading and about what reading means in the digital age. There is, in fact, a considerable climate of anxiety about books and reading. Does it mean the end of books? Does it mean the end of reading, itself? In the technological changes of the digital world, do the changes to reading mean changes to our thinking?
There is, for example, Alberto Manguel’s classic, History of Reading (1996), not to mention his A Reader on Reading (2010) and a collection of other writings. There is Maryanne Wolf’s remarkable and prescient book, Proust and the Squid (2008), Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (2010), Christopher Hedges The Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2007), Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardises Our Future (2008) – no prizes for guessing where he is coming from! There is the digital cheerleader, Clay Shirky, with Cognitive Surplus (2010) and, soon to come, Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation (2011).
There are the scholarly reflections of such figures as Anthony Grafton with his Worlds Made by Words: Scholarship and Community in the Modern West (2009), and Ann Blair’s Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age (2010). And just as recently, there is Alan Jacobs useful overview and balanced reflection in his The Pleasures of Reading in An Age of Distraction (2011), who opens us out to a larger world past and present about the how, the what, and the why of reading. As he notes about Harold Bloom’s How to Read and Why (2000), it should really have been called ‘What to Read and What to Think about It’. There is always, it seems, a moral, even dogmatic, imperative that slips into the consideration of reading. And, finally, to end this eclectic romp about books about books and reading, Amazon alerted me just the other day about a book just released by Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carrière, entitled This is Not the End of the Book (2011)! I suspect that this is not “the end of the matter”, though I think the wisdom of Ecclesiastes will indeed be born out, namely that “of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”
It might seem that along with the question, “how do we read?”, there is the equally important question, “what do we read?” To be sure. Yet, this may be one of those rare moments where the how sheds light on the what, the means upon the purpose. At the very least, it opens to view the necessary interrelation between how we read and what we read.
And what about worship and prayer? What about the reading of The Book of Common Prayer? How readest thou?