Thursday, March 7, 2013

Serious Readers according to Philip Roth

Someone told me something the other day which has been playing around in my mind ever since: he said that Philip Roth had lamented that in another generation there won't be any "readers" left. 

My initial reaction was to roll my eyes and chalk this up to typical Cassandra's involved in the writing or publishing industries. Of course, people are reading more now than ever before. More books are sold than ever before (despite what we're led to believe and, yes, most of the books are crap) and, of course, most people are sitting in front of a computer reading almost all day long.

Seriously? 2 1/2 hours every day?
So the question is: what is a "reader." According to Philip Roth, it's those who are "serious readers," meaning they read books at least 2 or 2 1/2 hours a day. Again, my initial reaction is skepticism. After all, reading is my job and even I often don't read that much, at least not books.

I wonder WHO today could possibly read books 2 hours every day? I typically get up at 6:30, work for two hours every morning (online reading, not book reading though I'm often reading about books), then I go into my office at around 9:30, staying until 5:30 or 6:00. By the time I get home, it's close to 7:00. Then there's dinner, catching up with what happened today with those around me, and if I'm lucky, an hour or 45 minutes of reading books. But I also try to read an article or two in The New Yorker or some other literary magazine. A TV episode of something before sleep...then, because I get up so early, I am off to bed.  And those are nights when I don't have some event to attend or some work to finish.

If Marilyn could do it...
Where on earth would I squeeze in 2 or more hours reading? I imagine that most people's schedules are similar to mine except maybe the few writers I know who can make a living at from writing alone.

On the weekends, I might occasionally find a couple of hours to sit and read but honestly even that's not every weekend. Again, books are my job and if I can't find the time to do it, I wonder if anyone can (except the writer exceptions noted above).

On some level it's a choice: I could possibly squeeze in 2 hours if I did nothing else: no movies, no TV, no conversations or going out. But reading should just be a part of one's life, it should add to life but not be life. I want to be able to go out and know what people are talking about. And, let's face it, though I occasionally have chats about some books with my friends (many of whom are readers), we talk at least as much about other things in life if not more. 

Reading has become, I think, a private occupation, something one does but possibly doesn't necessarily share or discuss with others (often perhaps because there aren't that many readers out there?), or at least not much.

So what do we talk about with others now? The news, TV shows (The Walking Dead, Enlightened, etc.), the latest New Yorker, podcasts, popular Internet memes, etc. 

I wouldn't want to sacrifice that for books. I love reading, but I guess even Philip Roth would say I'm not a "serious reader" ...

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