Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Pursuit of Reading

How do you decide what book to read next? How often do you refer to Amazon's best seller list to make your decision? Do you pick the book that everyone else is reading, or do you choose instead a book that satisfies your own intellectual need?

These are the questions that should be addressed after reading New York Times article titled "The Book Club With Just One Member". In the article, author Motoko Rich pointed out that, in the era of Facebook, Goodreads, Shelfari or book clubs, people's attitudes toward reading have changed drastically. Long ago, Virginia Woolf once said, "The pursuit of reading is carried on by private people." Nowadays, however, there is no longer any privacy left in reading. The act of reading has turned into a "relentless social pursuit". When people read a good book, their natural and immediate instinct is to share it on Facebook, Twitter, blogs (guilty as charged myself) or whatnot.

Long before the age of internet, the relationship between books and readers are much more intimate. Books were private possessions. The bookshelf reflected the reader's taste, intellectual altitude and even personality. Back then people decided on what books to read without much social noise. They spent more time indulging in books that piqued their interest and quietly savored the great moments in reading.

The act of private reading can be soul-enriching albeit a bit lonely. In our fast-paced society, loneliness is something we frown upon. Loneliness is not tolerated. But, think about all these book clubs where people get together once every two weeks to sip champagne and discuss the latest Oprah selection. How many people do you think are really there for a heated discussion on how well crafted chapter 15 is? How many people are there because they are hoping to reach out to someone else who could share their thoughts? Better yet, how many people do you think are reading a book that they don't care at all just so that they can use it as an ice-breaker at a social setting in order to meet people? Maybe we are all lonelier (and shallower) than we'd like to admit. Nonetheless, it is a fact that book reading has become a great tool of communication and connection among people (and the lonely souls). As much as it is digressing from what reading is really about, it is benefiting the society a great deal.

What I like to see is that each one of us indulges in a bit of private reading. Forget about the best sellers. Forget about Oprah. Forget about what you are told to read. Go to the bookstore and pick a book that is entirely "you". Get absorbed into the book! Soak up all of its wonder and glory. Preserve the experience for reflection. Put the book at the end of your bookshelf, and never utter a word to a soul. And that is the book that you will not forget for a long time. Mark my word.

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