September 10, 2012

Read Irresponsibly

Attached to the name tag I wear at work is a little sticky which encourages you to "Read Irresponsibly."  (see image below)  I have been thinking about that statement quite a bit in the last week or two.
When many people read it at a glance, they usually see instead "Read Responsibly."  And I suppose there are many ways that could be a good statement: Be responsible with your reading, by keeping books clean and dry.  Or: Be responsible with your choice of reading material; it's true that reading can make you uncomfortable, can make you confront ideas, assumptions, or long-held beliefs. Know what you're getting into before starting a book.

I choose instead to "Read Irresponsibly."  What this means for me is, I'll read anything, with little or no provocation.  I don't research authors before picking up their work.  I don't seek out every possible review before choosing a title, or sometimes any reviews at all.  Sometimes I don't even read the back of the book or the inside front cover before starting a book.  I've read books because the cover art is nice, because the title sounds interesting, or because I like the author's name.  (I do also read books because I read the synopsis or a good review, or I'm familiar with the author, or because the book was recommended by a reader I trust.)

By being irresponsible with my reading choices, I've found some fantastic authors I might have otherwise never discovered.  I've also found quite a few books I've put down without finishing even the first chapter.  But it's true that "you cannot open a book without learning something."  Even if the only thing you learn is that you don't like that author, I think it still counts.

The reason I've been pondering this statement is because my spouse has finally decided to read.  Although he used to be a big reader as a child and even as a teen, like many people he has let reading fall from his list of frequent activities.  I can say without exaggeration that before this month, he hasn't finished a book in at least four years.  (I'm not including picture books in that statement.  There is alot of Muncha, Muncha, Muncha read at our house-- our four-year-old loves reading time with Daddy.)  I can't say why my husband has suddenly decided to read.  Maybe I've been influencing him all these years.  Maybe he wants to be a good example for our son.  Whatever the reason, he read a whole book over the weekend and has started on another.  And, as it is my job to suggest reading material, he solicited my opinion for what to add to his TBR pile (that's the "To Be Read" pile and you might have one on your coffee table or night stand).

The thing is, because he doesn't have a list of previously-enjoyed titles, it is nearly impossible to make a good recommendation.  So I've encouraged my husband to read irresponsibly: to pull titles completely at random off the shelf and read a chapter or even just a few pages, to pick up anything and everything for the flimsiest of reasons and to put down without remorse anything that isn't enjoyable. This way, he will identify a few authors, perhaps a writing style or sub-genre, that he likes.

(For the record, I think he's going to enjoy classic sci-fi and fantasy-- Pratchett's Discworld series and perhaps Niven's Ringworld novels-- and then be big into biographies.)

"Read Irresponsibly" can mean something more, or at least something different.  A tag-line, perhaps a sub-title, to this statement might be: Read something appalling.  Read something offensive. Books are dangerous: they can challenge and even change your world view.  Because we at the library try to have materials to represent all viewpoints, we definitely have material you would disagree with.  I know we have material that I (personally, in my home-life) disagree with.  I've even purchased books that I find, yes, offensive.  But I know we have patrons who espouse that view or need information on or support that thought process, viewpoint, choice, whatever it may be.  If we didn't have material in the library that offended me, I wouldn't be doing my job.

Do you choose reading materials that might challenge some of your opinions? If you look before you leap, maybe don't read books from "the other side," good for you.  No matter what you choose to read or not read, I'll say "good for you," because it's absolutely your choice.  Sometimes my choice of reading includes this further definition of Irresponsible Reading, that I read something that repels me.  You can definitely learn something that way.

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