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Crossed Wires: Readership

by Wina Puangco

Okay, okay, so I know I said we would be talking about comics this week, but it will have to wait. I have a special post in store for you all, with a special guest, so stay tuned for that. For now, I thought we would discuss something a little more general—and also quite specific.

Recently, the idea of readership has been on my mind. The 2015 Bloggys are on the horizon, and somehow, it has got me thinking about the who/what/when/where/how/why of reading, especially locally. I’ve been thinking about the advent of memes and quotes and how that has affected – and continues to affect—the way we read and write. Instead of the usual format of these posts where I list the various misunderstandings, I thought I would instead write different questions that I think need to be addressed.

1. How do we balance quality vis-a-vis wideness of readership?

I have been thinking about genre fiction (say, H.P. Lovecraft’s work) and how it has a relatively small readership (which is also admittedly part of its charm), but a readership that knows it inside-out, that will read it and not forget it, that will sticky by it and pretty much defend it to the death. On the other hand, I’ve also been thinking of the opposite end of the spectrum, popular fiction (say work by John Green, Bob Ong, Rainbow Rowell) where everyone has not only access to the work but also access to opinions on the work.

As writers, what kind of readers do we want to have? Who are we writing for? As readers, what kind of readers do we want to become? Do we want to read wide, or do we want to read well? How do we strike a balance? I find myself thinking more and more about how I read Lord of The Rings (passionately, jotting down names, re-reading plot points) as a fifth grader and how I read Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy (excited, yes, but eagerly getting through pages to “get to the point”). Which do I prefer? Is there a way to be both?

2. Have we understood what reading is for?

There have been a lot of answers to this—a lot of direct, quite straightforward answers that even I have used in the past: We read to learn, to understand, to empathize. And yet they seem to be missing something essential, at least when we’re talking about literary work. What makes reading the newspaper different from reading Dwellers by Eliza Victoria? What is the difference between reading a street sign and reading a poem by Angela Manalang-Gloria?

I think the main difference is that literature has a gestation period. Reading is for learning, understanding and empathizing, yes, but it can’t be done directly. It isn’t a topical ointment: reading is intravenous. We need to let the story into ourselves for it to change us, to teach us something that we don’t know.

Knowing this, how do we choose, then, what we read? Do we try books on? Are they clothes we can step in and out of as we choose? Or are they in danger of changing us for good, almost without us knowing? Is it just a matter of degree? If so, where is the line? How do we know when we have crossed it?

3. When can we say we are critical readers?

Is an enjoyable book a good one? Is a good book one that is hard to understand? Where is the line between the esoteric and the intelligent? The arbitrary and the wonderfully off-beat? The thoughtless and the spontaneous? The unnecessarily complicated and the beautifully complex? The line is always thin and thinning even further. Maybe, it is our job to walk it, to do our best not to fall off. Maybe.

I’m sorry if I have no answers or clever things to say about this this week, but questions can be just as important as (if not more than) answers. Let me end this with something simple: What have you been reading and what did you think of it? 




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