I should pay you to read this.
Think of all the other things you could be reading right now — Shakespeare, Homer, the New York Times, “Intro to Macroeconomics: 5th edition.” There are loads of writers out there who would just love for you to read their life stories. Maybe one of them will pay you!
Imagine what a great career you could have as a professional reader:
“What do you do?”
“You mean, like, selecting manuscripts for publication or something?”
“No, I just read. I am an excellent reader.”
I am a good reader. I state this proudly for all the world to hear: go ahead and criticize my writing if you want, but I can read.
And we good readers are in such short supply.
I’m not talking about prolific readers, so spare me, please, the list of classics you love “having read” but hated “reading” and the “confession” that you are “sooo pretentious about literature.”
How many of you read for pleasure? I know, you don’t have time. (Although I must say you seem to have plenty of time for alcohol …)
We Yalies have loads of required reading which, because we have NEVER finished it, turns pleasure reading into a guilty pleasure. But we have to hurry through the required even as we formulate section responses and papers, while we do leisure reading for its own sake — simply to read.
We are all so worried about our output! Even here in academia — the closest we can get to my desired career as a professional reader — we have to extract the knowledge we want from clamoring self-indulgent theories and general pretension. Output, output, output …
If you’re not listening to what the other kid says in section, he’s not listening to you, either, and he completely just missed how articulate you sounded (idiot).
The good reader is the true scholar, whether or not he has much to show for it. He is taking it all in. And the truth is you can’t be a professional reader because receiving can’t be bought.
The good reader probably writes well, too, because he does not see writing as a life story in a shrink wrapper, but a working-through of the knowledge spinning around his head.
Of course, everyone is a writer today. We have been living through the age of what the Czech novelist Milan Kundera calls “graphomania” — the mania to write books — ever since we started talking in the 90s.
We went online, on Oprah, reality TV, or to the shrink, and we discovered such worlds of words inside us that we couldn’t stop. We wrote autobiographies; we started blogging.
Now, to make matters worse, we see that this is a problem, and so we can’t stop complaining about the bloggers who can’t stop talking about themselves! We add layers of self-consciousness to self-obsessed dialogues until everything becomes noise.
But as my lovely friend and muse Amanda Lewis told me yesterday, we should stop obsessing over how this is a problem.
We will never escape the crushing sea of bad art, so we might as well wade through the “I did steroids until my body shriveled up and I thought I was a butterfly until I found Jesus and FLEW AWAY!” autobiographies to find the few greats which capture why memoir is the genre of our day.
We don’t just happen to have few great opera composers today — our would-be Puccinis are writing R&B and our Wordsworths are rappers. We, the readers, choose what we want to listen to and the output follows us.
We’ve already moved on from the memoir craze. We’ve discovered, rather recently, that a whole frightening world exists out there beyond our parents’ divorce. And even blogs are trying to become worldly to court us! How sweet.
Look at Rosie O’Donnell’s hip political verse: “thurs i am on marthas show/ crafting away/ did u hear the donald dissing her/ he creeps me out/ there will b indictments/ this week — no doubt.”
We have tons of people who don’t know what they’re talking about, but we also have the ability to ignore them.
We are not better informed simply by virtue of the ever-growing political commentary-entertainment industry (that would require our reading) but if we are interested, the good stuff is there — see “The Kite Runner” or “The Colbert Report” — , and there will always be good readers to find it.
We are a consistently hot, if anonymous, commodity.
Anyway, reading up on the ever-more scary world today seems the best possible comfort. For once, you can just take it in without worrying about what you’re saying and how it’s being judged.
You can judge me! You can twist everything I’m saying, misconstrue it and then read it backwards in a British accent! Mwahahahaha!
I’m not going to give you any money for reading this.
Sorry if I came off a tease.
Susannah Bragg will scare little girls tonight in her Virginia Woolf garb.