The Risk of Reading: How Literature Helps Us to Understand Ourselves and the World

p. 1 “The technologies creating the digital revolution devalue language and increasingly do away with boundaries, celebrating speed and boundless exhilaration.  The visual trumps the linguistic, while the image and the screen trump the word and the book.”

Highly recommended by “Twitter” colleagues, I began reading this new work while sitting in the library. My students were working away, silently, on their after-school assignments when they heard my cries of outrage. All eyes turned, as my irratic behavior drew their attention, and oreover, their questions. My response was, “I have to put down this book.” I was becomming ridiculously incensed.

More than one month later, sitting in my studio at home surrounded only by sleeping cats, I resume reading it.  I will admit to you, dear reader, that I am only on page nine.  Waxler’s writing, beautifully crafted, is dense. It is taking me some time to process his ideas against my own experiences.  Additionally, I am visual, more so than linguistic. Need I state that there are no visuals here? He complies a short, but solid bibliography with breadth and depth. Based upon this, I will continue with my endeavor that could prove to be beyond me.
Looking at this from the perspective of a librarian for young, male students, ages eight through fifteen (who read voraciously both in print and digital formats), I find myself falling into the role of teacher-librarian. What would be my critique if one of my students began his essay in this manner?

Comments/questions would include:

  • Why begin with such negativity; does this make your reader want to continue? 
  • Why not begin with what your title suggests?
  • With statements such as, “Some people today have no story; they have no context and seem to have nothing to say…”(9), how do you arrive at this? What information do you include to support it?
I am quite miffed on behalf of those who do not experience “deep reading” in the manner prescribed (unbekownst to them). This exclusionary perspective does little to engender my empathy. Yet, “as human beings we have an ethical responsibility to acknowledge others, to listen to their stories, and to offer stories to them” (9). And so, I read.

Wexler, R. (2014). The Risk of reading: How literature helps us to understand ourselves and the world. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing. Print.


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