Readers and Doers

Janet has a discussion going on about reading and what our reasons are for doing it. I’ve been thinking a lot about the decrease in the habit of reading among Americans, which was discussed recently on a Mars Hill Audio interview with Dana Gioia.

Gioia was Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts when the agency did a large survey of the nation’s reading habits. We’ve known for decades that people are reading less…and less…and less. Isn’t this interesting, when a bachelor’s degree is becoming more common? Just this week I heard of a young woman who has a degree, who flat-out refuses to read anything, saying, “I don’t read,” at the same time she declares that she must need to get a job, she is so bored. This in spite of having a lively young child.

The phenomenon links right in to another observation by a college professor I also heard on Mars Hill, that the vast majority of students of “higher education” today do not connect their studies to their life outside the classroom. When they are with their friends, they would never think of discussing a novel or wonder how the wisdom of the ancients applies today. Is reading a task they have only ever done to pass a test or please a teacher? One doesn’t want to call what these people have undergone “education.”

Still, there are those of us who read, and not out of duty! Not for escape, either. As it turns out–and this surprised Dana Gioia–people who have a rich internal life with books are more likely to be involved in their communities and do volunteer work than non-readers. Reading is not truly a solitary activity, because the reader and the writer are interacting, and as the reader’s interior world is enlarged, his engagement with his fellow humans broadens accordingly.

The research gives a lot to think about–and I would write down my thinking, too, if I weren’t embarking more intensely now on a very different sort of work, that of remodeling our kitchen and downstairs floors and ceilings. Just look at this bookcase that has been denuded! A pitiful sight.

It marks only the beginning of the destruction and deconstruction and disorder around here. My computer will be moved to another room, not as handy. I will be packing and packing, and scraping and painting, and cooking without a kitchen. Then I will be unpacking and setting up my home again. Though it’s certain I won’t give up reading altogether for this while, I must think of the next few months as more in the realm of doing good in “my community.”

Every Lent presents a new challenge, because even if our circumstances or station in life might be the same as last year, rare enough as that is, we as individuals have changed from last year’s season of the fast. As I heard the exhortation at Matins this morning that we would show compassion on the needy, it confirmed the idea that had been growing on me, that this house project is not this year’s distraction from Lent, but provides a perfect setting for me to learn compassion.

Having my house torn up and chaotic, wondering which task I should do next and where I stashed the item I didn’t think I would need but now I do–all this causes me anxiety. But my poor husband suffers more, I am certain, and he needs me to show compassion and patience and love.

It wouldn’t hurt me to pray the Lenten Prayer of St Ephrem throughout the days of my opportunity:

O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King!
Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother;
For Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen. 

11 thoughts on “Readers and Doers

  1. This is a great post with lots of interesting thoughts. I can't imagine a life without reading. I am reading a book right now where the author speaks of homemakers, of all people, needing a “well furnished mind.”

    I also have an ongoing “discussion” with a friend on what it means to be educated. I maintain that having a college degree does not mean automatically mean that you are more educated than someone who might be self taught. She doesn't agree with me….not yet anyway. 🙂

    I like your attitude toward remodeling. It is both exciting and trying so I will be thinking about you during this challenge. I hope you will share updates.

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  2. I can imagine it would be very hard to have your house “torn up and chaotic”. I don't function well in environments like that. I tend to feel overwhelmed and then I shut down.

    As for reading, I love it! My kids seems to as well. I hope that continue that love as they grow. I am a big reader and my sister, my only sibling, doesn't read at all. I don't know how that happened. My mother is also a big reader, and even my father reads. SO it is odd that my sister does not. I hope that scenario doesn't play our in my immediate family because I will expect my children to read– I just hope they love it!

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  3. Very interesting post. I think it was Mark Twain who said that a man who doesn't read is no different than a man who can't read.
    My favorite thing to do when I was a child, and still, as an adult, is go to the library or book store and just browse for hours. And reading to my grandchildren is one of my greatest pleasures.
    Blessings,
    Anita

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  4. “Reading is not truly a solitary activity, because the reader and the writer are interacting, and as the reader's interior world is enlarged, his engagement with his fellow humans broadens accordingly.”

    Amen!

    I think this is why I love the blogging world… we are, by nature, avid readers.

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  5. VERY interesting. I find the discussion of modern college educating (or lack thereof)fascinating. I love reading for a variety of reasons, but I find that it helps me articulate my own thoughts better. Good luck with the house! Mine is in disarray at the moment too. ..

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  6. Your post reminds me of Stephen Crane, who lost a tooth in a school fist-fight, defending his assessment of Tennyson's poetry. Oh, that students today had deep opinions about their disciplines! I know that some do, but so many are simply pursuing an education path that will lead to a career goal, and then to … money.

    I agree that we interact with the writer when we read. Even if he is 200 years dead, we interact and discover him. I sometimes wonder if he thought of his future readers, still enjoying the creativity of his mind after he is dead?

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  7. I really feel sorry for all the college graduates who don't read and only think in terms of degree…career….money…happiness. We all know it doesn't work that way. I hope they find it out sooner rather than later.

    I've enjoyed all your posts on Lent. Our church doesn't observe it, unfortunately. So I seek out wherever I can more information. It seems to be something my heart is yearning for.

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