Monday, May 16, 2011

Braying Imbeciles of the World Unite! (A Book Club)

It began in middle school. The English teacher was murdering another book, just drilling it, like it was just another memorization subject, letting their passion squander the message and potential of the book, and we had had enough. We gave up reading. Okay, so we didn't completely give up reading. But we might as well have.

We began reading easier things, the kinds of things we used to read before middle school, when reading was fun, light, carefree. We read books like we watched movies, to escape, just to unwind, to discover familiar things. We scoffed at those who attempted to read for any other purpose. In fact, we joined the conspiracy that forced all the hot new "prestigious" titles down the throat of befuddled consumers, and we bought electronic readers, so that literature's worth became more devalued still. (We did it for the trees!)

We ignored every attempt to win us over again. Who did we have to impress? As long as we were reading, it didn't matter. Every time we had to find a new book, we needed every kind of assistance, and we had no idea why. We read like we watched, and this is no insult to movies or TV. Reading was just better, automatically, because we had to picture everything ourselves, even though every detail was spelled out for us.

We kept reading, to spite the English teacher, to spite all English teachers, and everyone who ever attempted to prove themselves somehow intellectually advanced. We kept reading, and we laughed at anyone who might even suggest the word "interpretation," anyone who might believe that books might have something to say, other than reflect the same things we read in newspapers. But of course, we didn't read newspapers, or watch the news. We knew what to expect, and they never gave us the good parts. And the good guys didn't always win.

Not with the stuff we read! Sometimes I wondered if we weren't insulting ourselves, sometimes I wondered if there really was any other point to reading, sometimes I wondered if we were killing all of it, not just the stuff we abhored, but the very things we enjoyed, the very things that kept the whole industry afloat, the things that never got any respect, the ugly reflection we gave right back ten times stronger.

It wasn't until there weren't any new books at all, and when I realized that my grandchildren weren't even taught to read, that I suspected there might be a problem. I whispered, "Complacency," but nobody knew what I meant, and they pretended really well that they hadn't heard me at all. Somehow it would come back, all of it, and probably the whole cycle. Maybe that's just how it was. Maybe that English teacher knew exactly what they were doing, the very personification most people would ever have, the example we were meant to follow, when they killed our interest in reading anything but was easiest to enjoy. I shouldn't say that. There's no reason to hate the things I liked. But maybe there was a way to help me like the rest of it, too.

Well, maybe.

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