Cristina Nehring on Book Grazing

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29 June 2009

A quick google of Cristina Nehring, author of A Vindication of Love: Reclaiming Romance for the Twenty-First Century, from last week’s post, brought up an interesting 2004 article from the NY Times by Nehring entitled, “Books Make You a Boring Person.”

In the article, Nehring cautions against book-lover self-righteousness, urging readers to remember that there are many different ways to read a book:

We all know people who have read everything and have nothing to say. We all know people who use a text the way others use Muzak: to stave off the silence of their minds. These people may have a comic book in the bathroom, a newspaper on the breakfast table, a novel over lunch, a magazine in the dentist’s office, a biography on the kitchen counter, a political expose in bed, a paperback on every surface of their home and a weekly in their back pocket lest they ever have an empty moment. Some will be geniuses; others will be simple text grazers: always nibbling, never digesting — ever consuming, never creating.

The example of the “grazer” helps me think through the half-baked thoughts of a previous post, “A Lot of People Don’t Read Books.”  In the back of my mind, I knew that I wasn’t really making a distinction between book-readers and non-book-readers, but something else.  Nehring gets closer to the meaningful distinction:

There are two very different ways to use books. One is to provoke our own judgments, and the other, by far the more common, is to make such conclusions unnecessary. If we wish to embrace the first, we cannot afford to be adulatory of books…we must be aggressive… 

…you can learn anything from a book — or nothing. You can learn to be a suicide bomber, a religious fanatic…as easily as you can learn to be tolerant, peace-loving and wise. You can acquire unrealistic expectations of love as readily as, probably more readily than, realistic ones. You can learn to be a sexist or a feminist, a romantic or a cynic, a utopian or a skeptic. Most disturbing, you can train yourself to be nothing at all; you can float forever like driftwood on the current of text; you can be as passive as a person in an all-day movie theater, as antisocial as a kid holed up with a video game, and at the same time more conceited than both.

My shorthand for this (and another reason why I struggle with the Kindle) is: “Read with a pencil.”  Read aggressively.  I know I am reading in a way that will change me in some way if I am making notes, rushing to jot things down in my journal, underlining and sending quotes to friends.  Can you make notes/marginalia on a Kindle?  If yes, I might just be sold.

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