David of the fine Largehearted Boy website called my attention to Five Books, where various thinkers/writers/experts are asked to name what they believe are the five most important books on a given subject. The archives are fairly extensive; here’s some of what I tossed into Instapaper for later.
In schools and colleges, in these audio-visual days, doubt has been raised as to the future of reading — whether the printed word is on its last legs. One college president has remarked that in fifty years “only five per cent of the people will be reading.” For this, of course, one must be prepared. But how prepare? To us it would seem that even if only one person out of a hundred and fifty million should continue as a reader, he would be the one worth saving, the nucleus around which to found a university. We think this not impossible person, this Last Reader, might very well stand in the same relation to the community as the queen bee to the colony of bees, and that the others would quite properly dedicate themselves wholly to his welfare, serving special food and building special accomodations. From his nuptial, or intellectual, flight would come the new race of men, linked perfectly with the long past by the unbroken chain of the intellect, to carry on the community. But it is more likely that our modern hive of bees, substituting a coaxial cable for spinal fluid, will try to perpetuate the rave through audio-visual devices, which ask no discipline of the mind and which are already giving the room the langour of an opium parlor.
Reading is the work of the alert mind, is demanding, and under ideal conditions produces finally a sort of ecstasy. As in the sexual experience, there are never more than two persons present in the act of reading — the writer, who is the impregnator, and the reader, who is the respondent. This gives the experience of reading a sublimity and power unequalled by any other form of communication. It would be just as well, we think, if educators clung to this great phenomenon and did not get sidetracked, for although books and reading may at times have played too large a part in the educational process, that is not what is happening today. Indeed, there is very little true reading, and not nearly as much writing as one would suppose from the towering piles of pulpwood in the dooryards of our paper mills. Readers and writers are scarce, as are publishers and reporters. The reports we get nowadays are those of men who have not gone to the scene of the accident, which is always farther inside one’s own head than it is convenient to penetrate without galoshes.
[Taken without permission from “The Future of Reading”, from the book The Second Tree from the Corner, (c) 1935-1954 by E.B. White / Harper & Row.]
From an essay by Louis Menand, on the subject of creative writing programs and whether or not writing can be taught:
I don’t think the workshops taught me too much about craft, but they did teach me about the importance of making things, not just reading things. You care about things that you make, and that makes it easier to care about things that other people make.
I haven’t mentioned anything about my new gig: I’m working with Michele Filgate (of the Reading is Breathing blog) as a Book Reviews Editor for Identity Theory. Condalmo will continue (and may be in for some changes) but I’ll also be working there, editing, reviewing, and blogging. Please stop by and say hello.
(We’re also getting in touch with publishers and folks interested in reviewing books. If you fall into one of those categories, drop me a line: condalmo on Google Talk, or condalmo at gmail dot com, or through the Identity Theory site.)
Wyatt Mason will be looking into the form of the essay, and Arthur Krystal’s work in essays, this week at the Sentences blog. I’m looking forward to it, as I’ve been spending some time lately with the writings of another fairly well-known essayist.
Speaking of whom, an anecdote:
When he was older and had achieved some fame, E.B. White was asked to record his classic story “Charlotte’s Web.” As those familiar with the story know, one of the most touching moments in American fiction occurs at the death of the lovable spider. The person overseeing the recording reported that White could not read the sentence, “Charlotte died,” without bursting into tears. After several unsuccessful takes, the author apologized and said it was ridiculous that he become so emotional about a story that he himself wrote. Finally, on the seventeenth try, he made it through without breaking down.”