Thursday, February 12, 2009

The stigma of culture (I)

Within the 2.1 decades that have compromised my life thus far, I was witness to some things that, when I look back upon them at this point in my life, make me recoil in disgust. I am not talking about the events of 9/11 or some other bloody struggle. Nor am I talking about some or other death or birth of a great thinker of our time.

The stigma of books
I, like some others out there, probably a bit too few out there have a passion for the written word. I, like even fewer out there, have a passion for reading philosophy. While I am unaware of my ability to actually do philosophy at a high enough level, the purpose of my reading it, is to better my knowledge and understanding of the world around. Take the new ideas I am confronted with, I run them through the spectrum of my principles and discard or adjust my principles depending on how much sense I believe the author is making. Even if I come to the conclusion that the author's ideas were misguided in any way or they do not end up as a ideology I will myself endorse, the experience of reading that book will remain and help my future arguments. The last statement I believe, or hope, is true for most of my brothers and sisters in books out there.

However, I said stigma in the title of this post and I will get to that soon. In my observations of the actions of those around me, I have come to the conclusion that, people in general dislike to read. Well... aside from the usual morning newspaper that most of us read either out of boredom, desire to have something to talk about with our colleges at work around the water cooler, or simply the desire to be informed. We all read ... a bit. However, the reason of my rant today, is the attitude children have towards their peers who have a passion for books. And more worrying these attitudes of .... I'm not even sure what to call them, but I will use oppression in lieu of a better word... have crossed over to the adult world.

"Say, I've noticed a certain anti-intellectualism going around this country man, ever since around 1980... Coincidentally enough... I was in Nashville Tennessee last week, and after the show I went to a waffle house. Right? I'm sitting there, I'm eating and I'm reading a book. I don't know anybody, I'm alone, and I'm reading a book. And this waitress comes over to me "Tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk... What'cha readin' for?" Wow, I've never been asked that... Not 'What am I reading?'... but 'What am I reading ... for?' ... Well god damn it you stumped me.... I guess I read for a lot of reasons but the main one... is so I don't end up being a fucking waffle waitress. Yea... that'd be really high on the list... Then this trucker in the next booth gets up stands over me and goes "Well... looks like we got ourselves a readah"... What the fuck's going on here?" ~ Bill Hicks - Sane Man (1989).

So, if we are to believe Mr Hicks words, and we would add the social delay that occurs when things that happen in the western world approach the old soviet block countries we should expect this in the near future, or that it has already been happening. It is my belief that children are the way the future will look. If I remember correctly from my early years, the fact that you had a passion for reading (which in my childhood was not so developed as it is now, and I have to thank a few friends for opening my eyes and my desires to actually read) was looked down upon by most of the other children in your class, and other classes in general. This continued through high school, where most people, while a bit less intolerant to books, were more than happy to let the jesters of the class poke jokes about the few who wanted to reach higher reason. College was not as scrutinized as high school for I have attended less than was wise to, so an educated opinion can not be performed. However, I hold most of my current classmates in a bit of higher regard that those of my select highschool (and I don't use the term ironically).

So how is this possible? I was never educated to have any disdain for those who read, and with time, I actually came to admire then join the few who read more than the newspaper. Did parents then not teach children the value of books? Do parents now not teach children the value of books? Will we, when our turn to be parents, will we not teach our children the value of books? I am not saying that they are obliged to like it. I am saying at least respect those with the patience and determination to go through things they cannot do.

"The library is the temple of learning, and learning has liberated more people than all the wars in history". ~ Carl Thomas Rowan

I will never understand intolerance, but intolerance to readers is something that simply does not make sense to me. Dear readers, am I overly sensitive about this? Are these observations of mine distorted, or mere exceptions, isolated events?


  1. Ok, so I have quite a few comments on what you said.
    First of all, the idea that we read less and less. If you were to say we read less and less books that are actually worth reading, I would agree. But I have started to see more and more people who read in the subway, or in a cafe or teashop, while waiting for somebody. I guess we should thank Cotidianul for the book collection, since most of them are both good and cheap. Which brings me to the next idea.
    It is true that we read less than, say, 50 years ago, since we have TV, internet and all that crap. But also because books have become quite expensive. I don't know about you, but 40 lei on a new book from Carturesti is a little too much for me. I used to spend my monthly allowance on that, but now it doesn't seem to be enough anymore.

    Thirdly, we both went to the same highschool, and I have to say that I am very grateful for that experience, since it was the moment when I really started reading. And most of it was thanks to my friends there and my Romanian teacher. So I dare say you were just unlucky when it comes to your highschool colleagues.

    And last, you seem to think (considering the quote you gave) that in Western societies people don't read much. Now, in my few months spent in both the US and France, I have been amazed by how many people you see on the street with a book in their hands. Again, on the bus, in coffee shops and so on, they all read. Some, even while they are walking. And all the bookshops, even (or especially) the small and cheap ones, are pretty much all the time packed with people. It's true that I have seen only big cities, but I'd like to be able to generalize and say that it could be true for most of the French/ American society.

    Oh, and one more thing: do you really write your posts that early in the morning? :P

  2. Yes. I really do write those things at those odd hours.

    Now onto the discussion. While I agree to your point that we read less and less than a while back, I cannot say I share your observations of people with books in their hands. I could count on one hand the number of readers I saw in the subway or busses. Maybe you frequent more indie shops and cafes than I, but indie is indie for a reason.

    True, the financial possibilities of an individual may be a deterrent to the amount of his reading however, there are libraries out there which rent books.

    But I digress. This is not the point of my rant today. Maybe at a later age people actually do read. However, I was talking about the disdain that most children have for other children who enjoy reading and the disdain some young adults have for readers.

  3. Well, I was mostly thinking about young adults too, and, as I said, I don't think that this repulsion against readers is that spread. Since, to my mind, there are quite a lot of them who are readers themselves. On the contrary, the older you get, the less you read. So I wasn't even thinking about people, let's say, a generation older than us.
    As for kids, well, I for one haven't met any kid that actually likes reading. Seriously. And I have a 11 year old sister, so I guess I meet quite a few kids these days. So what I'm saying is that I haven't seen or perceived this rejection towards readers from people. Maybe I don't pay enough attention. But I'd like to hope I'm right

  4. Then you're more of an optimist than I am.

  5. Interesting post. I can't say I've ever noticed children/adults showing any disdain for avid readers, but the world is a very complex thing and am not surprised in what you're telling us.
    I would like to add something to this issue. In today's society, as we all know very well, information no longer comes exclusively from books and newspapers: we have the internet, and with it, more access to written information, and to culture in general, much of it expressed visually. The source of learning is both written and visual (+ auditive): the media for knowledge have diversified a great deal, and I believe that is a great thing. I am optimistic, maybe, in assuming that more and more people get informed because even if they don't read, they watch. A counterargument to this would be that it also matters WHAT you watch when you click a link on youtube or another site, but the same could be said about books: there is an inflation of trivial books on the market. Maybe not books per se are the issue here, but intelligent selection of information.