On the Form and Function of Reading

It’s difficult for me to know how to start.  With a generalization or an explanation?  Better yet like this. “Once upon a time there was a New Years Resolution, a thick brew of internet pages, and a certain paragraph in a sociologist’s publication.  These three things lived in the cerebral cortex of a certain young woman.”

So, having neatly laid out the post, hinted at the topic in the title, and begun with clichéd literary flair, I shall now tell the story, beginning with the book and journeying backward to the resolution.

Lewis Coser, a Jewish Sociologst, wrote a book published in 1965 and updated in 1969 tracing the history of intellectuals.  Entitled Men of Ideas it’s beginning comments on the humble origins of the ntellectual, which Coser puts to be around the 1600’s and the community of the French Salons. From these first steps into a formalized concept, Coser shows the march of intellectualism into the halls of power, where it holds only a tenuous seat in office every now and then in various countries.  Intellectuals, after all, are not pragmatists, they are detached idealists more interested in universals than particulars.    Since they are quite quickly ousted or conformed to be pragmatists, it is no surprise that the final section of the book deals with where exactly this breed of man is to be found, since it clearly isn’t in the government. (insert laugh)

Here, in an innocuous section on Academia, Coser puts forth an idea about what education is, and which I think can be stretched with only minimal adjustment to the topic this story really wants to address.  Reading.  He points out, that for a very long time academia was concerned with two main aims: Skill and Cultivation. I think this is where reading used to be.  Men and Women were either reading to learn a trade or science, or they were reading because Shakespeare is ennobling and everyone should know about the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. Now, more often than not it seems that Reading falls into a certain third category, Amusement.

This is where my own attachment to the Internet comes in.  If anything, Internet prevalence is causing people to read more, and voraciously.  Articles, Blogs, forums, Facebook statuses , Twitter updates, Google searches.  The trouble: all of these things are temporal.  In the words of a less fleeting publication, “Everything is transient.”  Out of no less than 500 to 600 articles I’ve read in the last year, few stick with me.  In order to justify this blog post, I attempted to find some of them online.  I couldn’t.  The words and subjects I thought were key, Google didn’t. (Nor is this any surprise given the vast amounts of data humans produce on the internet each day)  I know they’re out there I just couldn’t find them.  I only came up with sad statistics via a poignant Donald Miller post I remember reading. I even found sadder statistics from the Children’s Defense Fund related to black children’s reading levels.

Does this mean that I’m going to give up reading internet articles and Facebook statuses?  Hardly. It just means, in the interest of my New Years Resolution, (which was “Read More”) I’m going to take a long hard look at the Quantity of my reading, and hopefully focus more on the Quality this year.  That topic, and my methodology, will be covered in the next post.


Author: Beth M

I love new ideas & information, connecting people, and discovering New England adventures.

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