Monday, December 24, 2007

You Are What You Read

There is an article in Sunday's New York Times that says You are What you Read.

In an 1806 diagnosis, a British doctor hypothesized that the “excess of stimulus” produced by reading novels “affects the organs of the body and relaxes the tone of the nerves.” Reading at the table interfered with your digestion, reading before lunch with your morals. Another expert, in 1867, warned that “to read when in bed ... is to injure your eyes, your brain, your nervous system, your intellect.”

In 18th-century paintings, the reader sprawls on a sofa or lolls at the hairdresser’s; in 19th-century magazines, those characters shown reading are the least likely to engage in any exercise more strenuous than turning a page. One English journalist in 1874 worried that frequent readers “are defrauded out of their proper amount of exercise, get their muscles relaxed and their health out of gear.”

Reading was for girls what gaming is for boys: absorption shading into addiction. And like the Xbox or the potato chip, the pleasure it gave in the moment was proportionate to its dangers in the long term. Then, reading was a sign of laziness; now, readers get credit for hard work.

The idea that reading makes one lazy - is somewhat preposterous. I have never been told that I read too much. At least I dont remember being told that. I was frequently told that I watched TV too much (back when I was watching TV - I dont do that any more). I am also told that I do spend too much time on the computer. But I dont recall ever being told that I read too much. Not in those specific words.

I remember being told frequently that I was a bookworm, a bookworm bear (if such a thing exists) and a bookaholic. I remember being told to "not read in the dark, because it will hurt your eyes". I was always being told "Elbows off the table" if they were planted either side of a book while I was eating. But I must have not been very good at mind reading when I was a child. I certainly never picked up any message that meant I should be outdoors playing, or to get up and help with the chores, or that I read too much.

Every birthday and Xmas, I asked for book tokens (like book vouchers) and invariably received them, and so I was able to buy more books. Whenever I was told I could have a toy, I usually asked for a book instead. If I did own any toys or dolls, they were given to me as gifts.

If I am what I read, then I consider myself to be a fairly well rounded and knowledgeable person. With good general knowledge in history, geography and politics. I am not so good in sports and science and definitely hopeless in maths. I LOVE Trivial Pursuit, and I love watching trivia game shows on TV like Who wants to be a Millionaire, Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader and the new program Duel.

I am constantly searching for more knowledge. I LIKE who I am because of what I read.


Megan said...

I agree that the thought of reading being considered lazy is pretty ridiculous! As a matter of fact, I saw a lot of myself in your post - especially about preferring books to toys and being a more knowledgeable, well-rounded person as result of reading.

Literary Feline said...

Wasn't there a study done recently showing that people who liked to read led more active and fulfilling lives? I wish I could remember where I heard that.

Carrie K said...

Reading Matters by Catherine Sheldrick Ross et al covered a lot of this territory. (How reading and libraries wer viewed through the ages). Pretty interesting.

I was told constantly I read too much. Now I watch too much TV, according to some. Alas, I continue to do what I want....