Send me a man who reads
It was also repunctuated by some wag to represent a more characteristic American attitude: “Send me a man. Who reads?”
I think of that slogan at the start of every semester, when I distribute to my editing students a form on which they are invited to give me contact information and a few facts about themselves to help me get some sense of who they are. One of the things I ask for is the title of the last book they read for amusement—the last book they read that was not assigned for a class.
I have learned, in the interest of economizing classroom time, to add, “If it takes you longer than thirty second to remember the last book you read, leave that item blank.”
Someone always does. Sometimes a handful.
The idea that we have undergraduates who don’t read books distresses me. Of course, I know that they do read. They don’t spend quite all their time keeping up with the Kardashians. They read in print and electronically. They read articles.* They read blog posts. They exchange these items on Facebook and elsewhere.
But reading a book, even a popular novel, requires some measure of sustained attention, and reading a serious book requires concentration and intellectual effort to comprehend and absorb the material. This is the same kind of concentration and assimilation that are required if one is to edit texts analytically, and that is why I have an interest in my students’ reading habits.
Just as one worries about students who are conservative in college—what in God’s name will they be like when they’re fifty?—one worries about students who are not building up their intellectual capital and skills at a time when they have leisure and opportunity.
*This morning I saw an undergraduate student reaching for a newspaper. A printed newspaper! It was almost as exciting as if I had spotted a passenger pigeon feeding.
And please, I’m not just bashing undergraduates here. Many of my colleagues and acquaintances do not seem to be hitting the books all that hard, either.