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.
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.