Reading is for everyone. You do not have to be a scholar or a monk to read when there are paperbacks and e-readers. You do not have to wear a cravat and a blazer to read Shakespeare.
If you are a reader, not a pretend reader, you are drawn into the text. You don’t read books so that you will look smart in the right society. It wouldn’t matter if it was a book, a manuscript, a pamphlet, a photograph, a blog, a manifesto or a television programme: you could read anything. Making a reading is more than deciphering the texts and saying whether you like it or not: it isn’t about showing off your good taste.
Readings change over time. The readings that Coleridge made are different to the readings that we make because the whole context of reading has changed. Think that two hundred years ago more than likely you would not have been able to read at all, even if you were literate: there would have been no texts available; those that were did not talk to the common man. Books from the past return to ideas of nobility and divinity that are withering away. Does anyone believe in noble blood now? The gods themselves have changed. I would say that no one- even the believer- has the same beliefs as our ancestors.
If this is true, why bother? What does Shakespeare have to say to us? Why not just read the moderns? I think that would be to misunderstand what reading is and can be. I do not read to have my opinions confirmed, or I would get royally bored. The challenge of reading something that is outside my world view excites me. I do not have to genuflect to the writer’s genius or go along with the opinions that come from the mouths of his characters; I do not have to agree with the underlying theory of kingship and nobility that threads through the discourse. Reading is like digging for understanding: you might get your hands dirty; you won’t achieve anything if you stand at the side and watch.
This kind of reading is all the more important today to offset the braying ignorance of the “dumbing down” brigade. They like to say that schools and teachers are not what they were and that soap operas and advertisements have made us all too stupid to understand Shakespeare. The hidden message, of course, is that they do understand Shakespeare and have a privileged right to trolley out quotations that support their reactionary world-views. “I had the privilege of a good education,” they might say with disdain.
I believe that you do not learn to read at school. An expensive private school, even a Harvard or a Cambridge, will only give you a different perspective on reading. It will give you privileges but it will not give you privileged readings. If you flunk school and work on the buses, you can still pick up a paperback and read. Your reading is as vital and meaningful as the reading of the privileged woman with the expensive education. The paperback and the e-reader have achieved this. Blogs have achieved this. Schools have not.
Why bother? I think you should bother to read with a sense of righteous indignation. There are some areas of human life where expertise entitles you to a privileged opinion: I would trust a pilot to tell me about flying conditions; a dentist would know more about teeth and a painter about his paintbrushes. When we are reading an expert might have specific things of interest to say about the structure of the text or the meanings of words or phrases. Yet neither the pilot nor the dentist, the painter nor the expert, can tell me what to think about leadership, love or myth-making. If you give more value to one person’s reading than another’s you are on a slippery slope towards authoritarianism. Your indignation should burst out when people tell you what you should think, or have the unholy presumption to try and guide you.
Eat, Walk, Read sounded good to me when I was thinking up this project. I wanted to put in a nutshell what it would all be about. Walking and reading go together. I think of Wordsworth striding around composing his poetry: I walk therefore iamb. The rhythms of English poetry refelct walking and walking reflects the reading. There was another reason I wanted to include eating and walking in these groups: I don’t want a teacher. The readings are continuous. I call them courses but they are not really anything like the kind of course you might have been on in the past. I respect my readers as individuals and everyone can express their own ideas equally and freely whilst eating or walking.
Perhaps it would have been better expressed like this:
There is more to think and write about I will come back to it.
You can leave your own ideas in the comments box. I’d be pleased to hear from yoou.