I have always believed reading/writing to be an artistic expression, something shared with the world; a medium through which people connect and grow. Reading is not a private matter, as Sven Birkerts describes in his novel The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. Instead, reading has the ability to bring people together.  It encourages interaction with both the author and the written text and those around you.  It spreads wisdom when shared and discussed. Reading is extraordinary because it is communal.

Birkerts admits that early in history, reading was public and conveyed openly. Pieces were often read aloud during social gatherings “…designated readers often entertained or edified groups at social or work-related gatherings”(Birkerts 71). But he continues to argue that reading is a personal and private matter. He describes his childhood experience with books,

“It was easy enough in retrospect to see a book as a screen, a shield, an escape, but at the time there was just a magic-the startling and renewable discovery that a page covered with black markings could…be converted into an environment, an inward depth populated with characters and animated by diverse excitements. A world inside the world, secret and concealable…it underlies to his day my sense of a book as a refuge,”(35).

I can clearly picture Birkerts sitting in a chair across from me charismatically expressing, with exaggerated hand movements and wide eyes, the enchanting, mesmerizing affects of reading. He then closes the page with what I believe to be the most compelling statement of the chapter “I was a dreamer and books were my tools for dreaming,”(35/36). Birkerts’ father was not approving of his son’s interest in books as he saw them as a “treat to his authority”(37). Thus Birkerts emphasizes the need for books in his life. They served as a comforting companion and diversion from an overbearing reality. Birkerts’ stresses the idea that reading is a private matter, though I disagree, I can understand his perspective. He goes on to describe his commitment to isolation when he reads “I will confine myself to the literary novel because that, for me, represents reading in its purest form,”(79). While I agree that reading is personal, I do not believe that reading is private.

When I was a child my father would read to my sister and I every night before we went to bed. He would on sit on the floor with a book in his lap while my sister and I laid on the bed eagerly leaning over the edge, our heads hovering on each of his shoulders with wide eyes and smiles from ear to ear. His voice is that of a storyteller, brimming with captivating charm and animation. He read each page with fervor. His voice would change with each character and he described every scene as though he had seen it himself. Throughout the story, my sister and I would comment on the pictures or ask about a word or seek clarification or reason behind a character’s actions, “Daddy, why does the dragon not like the boy?” The answer was either given directly or we were told to be patient and that we would find out soon enough. At the end of each scene, we would pause, our faces lit with excitement as we each said what we thought was going to happen next. Then the page would dramatically turn and there on the next was the answer. My sister and I would lay there, enthralled by the story, until our eyes would not stay open, and even then we begged him to continue, we claimed that our ears were still open and we were still listening.  Reading made every night truly enchanting. As we got older, we would rotate reading aloud. My sister and I would practice changing our voices and reading with the same life that my father did. And these are some of the memories I hold most dear as they greatly contributed to my view on reading; something that is shared.

As I took to reading on my own, I enjoyed books with stories that moved quickly and had some aspect of adventure with a twist of truth or hint of history. I adored Mary Osborne’s Magic Tree House Collection and the American Girl Series among others. However, I was more drawn towards writing when I was young. I won a couple contests with the stories and poems I wrote. I genuinely loved writing. I found it liberating. I could express my dreams and ideas in characters and manipulate their emotions and actions and determine their fates. Although, the construction of my work was private, I knew in order to improve it, I had to detach myself from it and open it to the world. I hated constructive criticism, but, in the end, the complements I received made it worth it. I never ever viewed reading or writing as something private. Neither had to be exclusive to have meaning or be magical. Though personal in creation, imagined scenes and invented characters, are often improved when revealed to others. The world craves the entrancing power of literary works; it is selfish to not share them.

Overall, reading and writing are forms of self-expression that should be open to the world. I greatly respect Birkerts’ opinion that reading is a private matter, as it can occasionally be something exclusive. Yet I firmly believe that reading and writing are a class of artistic communication to be shared with others. When opened to society, reading allows for learning, interaction, connection and growth. Reading is beyond extraordinary because it is communal!

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