Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wildcard Wednesday - The Readers

This is my 10 minute writing exercise in response to Erin Cupp's prompt on her blog:

Theresa, a book tucked under her arm, meandered around the old college campus. Although she was several years older than most of the students, it was one of her favorite places. The ivy-covered buildings, the picturesque setting by Miller’s Lake, the trees just beginning to take on the colors of fall; it all brought her such a feeling of peace. 

She found an open bench and sat against the weathered wood, cracked open the book and inhaled deeply. It was the smell of knowledge. An e-reader could never compare to the sensory indulgence of curling up with a favorite book selected from the shelves of her local library. She often wondered about the lives of books themselves: the people who had read them before her; the places they might have seen, the untold history she could only imagine. Today’s choice was a biography of Helen Keller, an incredible woman by anyone’s standards. She began to savor the words, soaking up the knowledge, losing herself in a different place and time. 

“May I join you?”

Startled, she looked up into the eyes of a white-haired man, leaning on a cane, carrying a book of his own. A kindred spirit.

“Of course,” she smiled, pushing over to make room. He slowly lowered himself onto the seat, leaned his cane against the side of the bench, and opened his own book. 

They sat side by side, two solitary souls, sharing a moment of perfect bliss.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A History of Reading?

On a recent visit to the Odyssey Bookshop, I picked up a free copy of the semiannual newsletter of The Massachusetts Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies, part of UMass Amherst. For a free newsletter, this was a rather hefty tome, filled with intelligent articles. I greatly enjoyed my time perusing this publication. Just reading it made me feel smart, even if I didn't understand all the scholarly topics!

One of the articles was "The Protean Virgil: Book History and the Reception of the Classics in the Renaissance" which was the text of The Classical Legacy Lecture delivered on November 19, 2013. In it, Craig Kallendorf discussed, among other things, the way that reading has changed over the ages. For example, in the 1500s, students were encouraged to write in their books, making comments on the passages as they read, focusing intently on each part. In contrast, today students are usually encouraged to look for the big picture.

Part of this is due to the fact that there were far fewer books available to the general public. The small number of texts that were available were read intensively. With the advent of the printing press, more books became available and the transition to a less-intense (in general) style of reading commenced. By the 18th century, "extensive reading had become the norm." Being well-read and broadly read was now more important than knowing a few texts intimately. 

Kallendorf commented on how today's world has created a different type of reading as well, describing it as a "continuation of the process." We read on-line "in short, very rapid bursts, in a way that would simply not make sense in the Renaissance."

It is an interesting process to think about. While I certainly wouldn't want to go back five hundred years in time and only have access to a few books, I did complete the vast amount of my education in the pre-internet era which meant that I learned and read differently than I do now. There is something to be said for the ability to focus on a single text, to study deeply and reflect, that perhaps we have lost in our instant information world.