Monday 12 December 2011

"Reading is primarily a symptom"

I mentioned Stop What You're Doing and Read This! the other day, and I am still loving it - so much so that I'm not going to confine it to one post.  I love essays about books, mostly because I agree with what they say - even better is when they make me reshift and reconsider my passionate views on reading.  Here's a quotation from Mark Haddon's essay 'The Right Words in the Right Order':

Talking about reading as the cause of anything is to get things back to front.  It exists in the valley of its own making.  It gives us pleasure; and our embarrassment about pleasure, our fear that reading is fundamentally no different from sex or sport, tempts us into claiming that reading improves us.  But pleasure is a very broad church indeed, and we do literature no great service if we try to sell it as a kind of moral calisthenics.

Reading is primarily a symptom.  Of a healthy imagination, of our interest in this and other worlds, of our ability to be still and quiet, of our ability to dream during daylight.  And if we want more people to enjoy better books, whatever that means, we should concentrate on the things that prevent people reading.  Poverty, poor literacy, library closures, feelings of cultural exclusion.  Alleviate any of these problems and reading will blossom.

--Mark Haddon, 'The Right Words in the Right Order'
Stop What You're Doing and Read This!


  1. I love this quotation and it makes me think I should read the book. Reading is pleasure indeed and we shouldn't be embarrassed by that. There is too much hustle and bustle around, especially at this time of year - reading is relaxing too, a kind of meditation.

  2. I never fear that reading is fundamentally no different from sex! I fully agree with the comment that reading is a symptom of a healthy imagination and I would absolutely argue that mutually enjoyable sex is exactly the same. I'm never embarrassed by my choices in seeking pleasure, reading, sex and physics included. Excellent choice of quotation.

  3. I love that picture, which I have a copy of, myself. Any pic with books in it is going to appeal to me!

    And I love the quotation. Having a very active and constantly busy sister has made me feel apologetic about my love of books. And when I was young and my mother came across me reading, she would say, 'Oh, haven't you anything to do? You could...'(insert 'polish the brasses; do some ironing' etc. here!) I pride myself on having NEVER said that to my offspring!

    I love being part of a booky family now and knowing so many people on-line who love books as much as I do. I shouldn't keep thinking of it as a guilty pleasure! Thanks for sharing the quote!

  4. Oh wonderful! You have just added a book to my TBr pile.

  5. Margaret - I find the concept of pleasure in reading really interesting - how it works alongside books being 'good'; whether it is part of that, etc. Haddon's essay is a really interesting contribution to that idea.

    Peter - thank you :)

    Penny - isn't it the most wonderful picture? I love it.
    I was grateful for a family which understood the importance of reading - even if they don't quite understand the importance of buying books!

    Stefanie - wonderful!

  6. I think what he said is very true. There are people who are not interested in other people or other worlds. There are people who do not sit still. There are those who view reading as 'wasting' time. I don't think being a reader means I'm better than anyone else who doesn't read. I can't knit or sew or embroider or craft. Some 'can't' read for the same reason perhaps - that it is of no interest to them.

  7. Haddon forgets to mention one vital point among the "things that prevent people reading." Book stores are closing in great numbers all over the US and Canada. I can't speak for the UK. but it's pretty dismal over here.

  8. Love the picture and agree with the words (and comments). A fascinating post

  9. Nan - that's interesting. I'm never quite sure what qualities reading has, and what I've invested it with. I would still probably separate it from craft etc. as being an intellectual rather than practical activity, but I suppose a craft person would see it as intellectual, maybe?

    John - it's just as bad here!

    Tom - it is an exceptionally good little book - I was expecting simply to be affirmed, but in many cases I was challenged or surprised.


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