The way we used to read

By CHARLOTTE REMARQUE

The image of a pasty, bespectacled intellectual looms over us when we are deciding what we want to read, like a vengeful God. We feel His hot breath on the back of our necks and we know that He will punish us if ever we read something unworthy. And so we carry around a copy of the Fountainhead/Anna Karenina/anything by Martin Amis like the proverbial cross. We struggle through a few pages, maybe, and then we chastise ourselves for not understanding, for not enjoying such a great work. We end up never reading.

Having to be intellectual all the time is a heavy burden on our shoulders. There is a purely imaginary schism between literature and ‘everything else’. It has become shameful, for students especially, to read things that are easy to read, like teenage romance novels or science fiction featuring busty alienettes. The problem this schism creates is that people are no longer reading for pleasure. Now, we want to read for all the wrong reasons.

“We just want to enjoy ourselves, but we can’t, because being spotted in the company of anything about vampires is social and intellectual suicide”

We want to read to bolster our intellectual status. Who can discredit someone casually draped over a park bench with a green juice in one hand and Murakami in the other?

We read in a desperate effort to grow up. Gone are the days of Twilight, we tell ourselves, because we are adults now, and we should be thinking about post-colonialism.

These reasons turn reading into a bothersome chore, a source of guilt, like a gym membership or an email from a distant family member. We just want to enjoy ourselves, but we can’t, because being spotted in the company of anything about vampires is social and intellectual suicide. So we stop reading altogether, because it is no longer fun. It is the biggest shame of growing up. When we were little we used to stay up reading until our eyes gave out, not caring for a second about the worth or weight of the material, just reading because reading is fun. And we deserve to have fun.

“Let’s all read like we are twelve again. Hungrily, cheerfully, and most of all, shamelessly.”

This is a plea. Please, please, let’s go back to the way we used to read. Let’s all read like we are twelve again. Hungrily, cheerfully, and most of all, shamelessly. And before you, people who genuinely enjoyed Ulysses, get angry: “literature” is not inherently boring. Read and read and read anything you like to read, be it Emily Brontë or Dan Brown. Read total shit. If you want.

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