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Will there still be readers in the future?

I read with interest Craig Fehrman’s article “Other ways to use a book” (Ideas, May 6), in which he describes how Harvard’s Leah Price wants to “restore reading to a larger social context.” Price predicts that our reading habits will drastically change, and that more and more readers will read from computers, iPads, and Kindles ­— something no one, she says, should fear.

I don’t fear machines taking the place of books, though I would regret not having first editions to collect, holding beautifully tooled leather volumes, enjoying the pleasure of turning a page by my finger, discovering someone else’s marginalia and smelling and feeling the richness of fine paper ­— aesthetic pleasures, I guess, that I can live without.

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What troubles me most about Price’s perspective is that she assumes that in the future there will still be hordes of readers. Having taught literature for 35 years, I saw a tremendous decline in readership among my students. Fewer and fewer wanted to read, and when assigned a classic such as “Moby Dick,” “David Copperfield” or “King Lear,” they turned to Monarch Notes and Cliff Notes — now no longer necessary, for synopses and criticism can be easily found on the Internet.

When many of my students complained about not liking to read, I had them write an essay about their dislike. Their most common complaint was that reading was solitary and demanded silence. Thus, it’s not so much a question of how we will be reading in the future as whether we will be. Even to read a Kindle, one still needs time alone and quiet.

Robert Waldron


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