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Voicing Silence 7

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A bee in my bonnet

On Reading

Yesterday I finished reading a most riveting book (more of that another time). And it got me thinking. Not the content of the book itself. But the whole thing about reading. And why it's considered such a superior thing to do. We talk of bookworms in such warm and affectionate terms. Like somehow reading a Danielle Steele is a noble thing to do. Whereas those addicted to telly are reviled in the most derogatory terms. Why is one a better hobby than the other?

So often I come across people who love to show off how much they've read. A person's worth is judged by the books that line his bookshelf - even if half of them have never been thumbed past the first few pages. Then there's the more dangerous association we regularly make. Between reading and intelligence. Is one because of the other? Is one due to the other? If so, how? Is there any tangible evidence to show that reading makes a better person? That devouring fiction will somehow endow the reader with wisdom (I use the term very loosely here, but you get the drift)? So why this snobbery when it comes to books? Your thoughts in the comment box please!

19 comments:

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Kamini said...

You raise some interesting points here. The reason most often given to "prove" reading's superiority over TV watching is that it is a more "active" process, requiring more mental effort than what is required by watching TV. That said, I don't know if it has anything to do with a person's intelligence. I have two children, both intelligent in their own way (here speaks a fond mother!). One loves reading, the other does it only on sufferance. Who am I to judge which one is the better? Which is why the theory of "multiple intelligences" is so appealing, and so necessary to put some of the intellectual snobs in their place.
I don't know the answer, and I suspect nobody really does either.
Kamini

Anonymous said...

Well, the assumption is that, a well read person is a well rounded person. Agreed that the content is to be taken into account. But a person who generally loves reading, is bound to read a variety of books and such people are usually open and filled with new ideas. I agree exceptions exist...but for most part, I do observe that. The more we read, don't we question what we read? Don't we have book clubs and such where we discuss ideas? Isn't discussion of new thoughts and ideas a good thing?

TV is a much more powerful media and it provides a clear pic into the world. But for most part aren't we watching entertainment programs/soaps? I frankly think a few serials that my aunts watch have totally skewed their views in life.

Anand said...

I suppose that humans have been consuming the written word for quite a while now. The printed word for a few hundred years. Television is barely 50 years old. So, the assumption is as they say in Tamil, "innum uram erala". This could possibly account for the snobbery.

~ Ms. Cute Pants ~ said...

MY 2 CENTS:
I don't think reading is a superior thing to do, (I think it's worthwhile). I love the world it takes me to & many times want to share that world with people, especially ones that don't read.

While I have read quite a few Danielle Steele novels back in the day (her day), I refuse to read her later ones (I find them so blah). Definitely nothing noble about it.

And while no snobbery is intended with the preceding comment, I will say yes! Reading does make an individual interesting - especially with what he/she has to say. I cannot begin to tell you the many things I (like many others, including yourself I'm sure) have gleamed from reading & I am thankful for it.

And finally, sharing/listing what someone has read is not necessarily showing off, unless those annoying few have snobby attitudes about it. :o)

Premalatha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Premalatha said...

I do not like reading books, particularly if they are fiction types. I like watching TV.

There are three types of people. 1) learn from listening.
2) learn from reading.
3) learn from watching.

Indian "intelligence" does not understand these. :-)

In teaching methods, the audio visual and graphic display methods are encouraged to include all three types of learners. In fact the "learn from visual display" are more effective than the "learn from listening" and "learn from reading" is the least effective of them all.

Books or TV, it is about the content that matters. people reading story books (fiction, if you want to call it with a fancy word) are NOT intelligent types, IMO. Well, same thing can be said about people watching movies. But in movies at least you get to observe many things other than the plot. Not that the plot is any inferior thing to be observed. in books, there are only two factors available for observation: 1. plot, 2. style of writing. IMO, books are inferior than TV. Not accurately/well made movie or not, I prefer watching it with Matt Damon's smile, rather than reading Robert Ludlum's book. Secondly, it (TV) provides me an opportunity to share it while watching, whereas reading renders me to do it alone. I prefer sharing. I prefer sharing every moment of my experience as I experience.

A4ISMS said...

I suppose books make you think, visualize, imagine... TV just make you soak up what you see...
I loved reading J.K Rowling till I saw the first movie...Then the charcters had too much of star presence for my liking... I heard Anne Hathaway had acted in A Devil Wears Prada... and while reading the book I kept imagining the Pricess girl...

Premalatha said...

//I suppose books make you think, visualize, imagine... TV just make you soak up what you see...///

As Ammani's post is one of my favourite topics of discussion, May I Ammani?

Thinking is offered in both the media. In TV, it is up to you, depending on what you are observing. I guess it is upto what is being observed in reading too.

Reading offers you too much for imagination (as there is nothing on the display) which renders some dreamers, in some cases delusionals.

prakash said...

reading is the cheapest way to widen your experiences. I think what can be had by traveling extensively and talked to a lot of people and may be comparable to virtual reality but a lot cheaper!

TV doesn't shut up to let you think, well there's news and there's news analysis and more analysis and leaves you with nothing to think. but yes, there are programs that have made me think, but I had to turn it off once I was done watching it...

But, yet it always feels better to talk to persons who have 'lived' their lives well than to the person who has only read a lot of books, so...

Falstaff said...

Is there a snobbery with books? I don't think so. Plenty of other activities - listening to music, watching movies, even playing sport - are things people are proud of. It's just TV that has a lower status. And are there really people who are snobbish about reading Danielle Steele? Really?!

I suspect TV gets short shrift for three reasons: a) it is genuinely more idiotic - with books / movies there's at least the possibility that you may be reading / watching something truly engaging and intelligent, but there's almost nothing on TV that provides that kind of stimulation (you could be reading Faulkner, or Camus, or Dante - what's the TV equivalent?) b) TV is, in the true sense of the word, an addiction - it creates dependency without necessarily providing joy (see my post on TV here) and c) TV has been, until recently, more ephemeral, so that you can't really build collections of it - which, of course, is a big part of what makes other activities pride-worthy. Books and music are available across time and space, in the pre-TiVo, pre-DVD world, you had to live in the same country, and be watching the same channel at the same time to share in someone else's enthusiasm for a TV program.

Shirsha said...

The first thing that strikes me about a person reading lots, and genuinely reading lots and having a passion for reading, is his perseverance/patience. And why is that a big thing? Thats just a quality to possess!
If a story you're curious about is available in book format and movie format, which'd you dive for? A person who jumps for the movie format comes across as someone taking a shortcut, somehow like in several cases getting an MBA is(a shortcut to more visibility in a company)! :) A shortcut to the destination(is thr one!?)...
Oh yes in the end both'd know the story, the person who resisted the movie and took to the book and the person who watched the movie, but I'd merely attribute qualities of patience and imagination to the guy who did the book first... is that wrong?

Rangakrishnan Srinivasan said...

You have the choice to read what you want to. Unfortunately, most of the times, we keep flipping channels and end up not watching anything useful. Maybe, that's why the prejudice against TV.

A voracious reader could be considered showing off, in front of a crowd that doesn't read. To him/her, it is just his/her way of life, which the crowd miscontrues for vanity. Likewise, a person interested in music, might be humming a tune to himself/herself, and the "non-musical" crowd could again consider it a case of showing-off.

Lastly, I would consider justifying one's interests by denigrating other forms - a heavy sign of insecurity. And as Feynman used to say, "Why do you care as to what people think". It doesn't take long for the people to make a + a - and vice versa.

And importantly, there might be those few, like-minded people, who would understand us; and importantly, relate too.

S m i t h a said...

books are considered better than, say tv, bcos it leaves much room for the imagination of the reader. words are the basic form of communication and anything added over it is a restriction on the creativity interpretation allowed to the reader.

mumbaigirl said...

I admit I am a book snob. I look down on people who don't read.

I read "pulp" fiction myself but look down on people who only read Danielle Steele or Sidney Sheldon.

I agree with Falstaff. There is nothing that Tv offers that compares to some great books-cinema does.

Jaisudha said...

I wouldnt completely write off TV, esp. after having seen all of "Six Feet Under" ..

The Practical Idealist said...

Reading is essentially a mental activity aided by sight (or did I just get that mixed up?). As such, the mind swings into action every time we pick up something to read. In the case of magazines, tabloids and the like, we read mostly for entertainment. I mean, there's really no intellectual benefit to be had from knowing how much your favourite actress exposes, is there?

When you read a riveting book, that's entertainment too, but you travel an imaginary world with imaginary people (with whom you may or may not be able to relate), and that in itself is a rich experience worth having, if you ask me.

When you read truly stirring works like, say Kant's "A Critique of Pure Reason" (which I have read only in pieces), or Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance", there's real intellectual stimulation that has the potential to make you a better person. Note that it doesn't necessarily make you a better person, but it has the potential to do so, all the same. When you know what could make you better, you are, I think, halfway through getting there.

The snobbery associated with reading is, I conjecture, a remnant of our childishness - my toy is bigger than yours; I'm richer than you; I played tennis with a Wilson Staff Pro racquet, etc. - and isn't limited to reading.

umm oviya said...

some people sing, some people dance, some people write, some people are into gaming, others into the telly. and then there are those who read (probably they suck at all the other things, like me). but you've got to give -- little else compares to a real great book.

IdeaSmith said...

Books may not be a direct sign of intelligence. Certainly not for blanket assumptions like the ones you point out (Danielle Steele! Mills & Boons!).

However, as one of those aforementioned snobs, I hasten to defend my stand. The thing about a book is that it leaves room for the reader to imagine the picture unfold in his/her head. TV doesn't do that.

Books have been around longer and perhaps that's why there's a lot more quality available there than on TV. While I'm not denying that there are crappy books, we've had real masterpieces being turned out for ages and ages now while TV can't make the same boast. When I say masterpiece, I mean a book that really makes its readers think, that can shape perceptions, even change them...a book that can change lives. There have certainly been some. I can't think of anything on TV that does the same.

I don't know that this makes a bookworm more intelligent than a couch potato but it seems to me like the former is far more interested in enriching his/her life than someone who just gets impressions and images fed second-hand into their conscious.

Thoughts?