An essay at Book Riot hit my RSS feed today on an always-controversial subject: how to read. I say it’s controversial because every time an essay like this comes up, two things happen: the academics comment and say ‘hear, hear’ and the regular people comment and say ‘OMG, lighten up and just read the books if you want to!’
I see both sides of this one. But I think that for me, what it comes down to is, as it always seems to be with me, this feeling that it isn’t really fair to lump everything together. I remember being a student in teacher’s college years ago and bristling when I would see a textbook refer to (for instance) ‘Hispanic students.’ There are over 20 countries where Spanish is a common or official language. To imply an inherent sameness in people from all of these places just on the basis of that one thing seems facile to me.
And so I think it is with the topic of ‘how to read.’ Why must there only be one way? When one is reading for school (as the author of the essay seems to be) then yes, I do think that beginning with at least a basic historical framework is useful. But I don’t think that means every reader should begin with a list of all the books they ever want to read, read them chronologically and never deviate. And I think that once you have that basic framework (which, at my own university, was established via the first-year survey course) then reading in any order is just fine.
As for my personal fiction reading, I see no need to treat it the same way I would treat an academic reading situation. If I want to pick up a book—even a classic book—and read it just for fun, there is nothing wrong with that. It isn’t vital that I explore, examine or understand any sort of ‘context’ for me to do that. I can just read for fun, can’t I? Even a Dickens novel?