Who better to guide us into the realm of reading than Italo Calvino? To open one of his most famous novels, If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, he writes:
Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, "No, I don't want to watch TV!" (...) Maybe they haven't heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: "I'm beginning to read Italo Calvino's new novel!" Or if you prefer, don't say anything: just hope they'll leave you alone.
Now don’t take him too seriously, but let’s think about it. What if every author gave you specific instructions on how to read their book? It might give us some insight into how the author intended the book to be read, but for most of us we would probably be a bit annoyed. After all, we tend to treat literature as our own personal escape. Whether we dive into it in the quietness of our bedroom or in the cafe, whether we use a paperback or an ebook - we all have and like to follow our own rituals.
Don’t rule anything out!
Some may find it pretentious but the beauty of literature and our relationship to it lays in some of those habits. There is, after all, a freedom that comes with reading. It doesn’t have to follow one path or one specific set of rules. There are even books that you can only fully appreciate while they’re read aloud - which makes a solid case for audiobooks or author readings. And who doesn’t reminisce about his parents reading Tales from Thousand and One Nights or Grimms’ Fairy Tales to him?
You can cultivate your reading time alone and still read while sitting on a bus next to a stinky guy with greasy hair. You may love to read paperbacks but that doesn’t stop you from choosing the convenience of an ebook from time to time. If you own an iPad you can make playlists that fit with the books you’re keeping on it. Each way of interacting with a book creates its own nuanced experience.
Technology and Tradition - Friends or Foes?
What are we to think about the relationship between the longstanding traditions of reading and the recent advances in technology? One might say that the latter have actually emphasized the former. For example, thanks to the Internet, it’s a lot easier to find your next best read, the most impressive bookshelves or that incredible library (just check fanpages like Bookshelf Porn and see for yourself). It makes me think that while the focus will shift to ebooks at some point, we might also look forward to beingspoiled with special editions that will blow our mind away. (This is already happening in music industry).
Reading is just another part of our lives in which it’s best to try different things. One of my friends likes to read while he’s intoxicated. And who am I to say that those who prefer tea or cocoa while reading have a more complete experience? If you remain open to all of the possibilities - no matter if they concern your reading environment, the medium or even step outside the bounds of your favorite genera, you’ll always find time for reading. And thankfully, it never ceases to amaze or satisfy us.