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Education Opinion

You Can’t Read a Book Through That Cover

By Susan Graham — July 11, 2011 2 min read
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One of the best things about summer is time to read. I read in bed in the morning; I read on the porch midday; I read on the couch in the afternoon; I read in the bathtub at night.

I read the professional books that have been stacking up on my desk, I read the classics that I never got around to, I read my book club selections, and murder mysteries, two newspapers, an assortment of journals and magazines. And I may be the only person I know who reads the product descriptions in the catalogs that arrive in the mail almost daily.

I admit that I may have an unhealthy interest in other people’s reading habits. I tend to wander over to to see which books are on the shelves of the bookcases in homes that I visit. What books do my students carry around? What are my colleagues reading? Which books are other people considering in the bookstore or library? Which newspapers are fellow passengers in the airport reading? I guess that makes me nosey doesn’t it?

Maybe my unabashed curiosity is the reason I’ve been particularly interested in a current decorating trend. In decorating magazines and catalogs, I’ve noticed that there are bookcases and there are books---but the books have been wrapped in plain brown or white paper. There are no titles or authors or illustrated book jackets on whole shelves of books. Some would argue that this is just a decorating conceit; an attempt to present a clean, uncluttered look. After all, what’s the point of books if you don’t know what’s in them? But to me, those blank book jackets represent a new political and intellectual movement. I’ll call it Readers Anonymous.

I understand how perfectly respectable readers are enticed down this slippery slope. It starts innocently enough with email. Then comes an occasional on-line article or news story The next thing you know, their newspaper doesn’t land on the porch, it’s delivered virtually. And before you know it, they are downloading books to their phone or an electronic reader.

I’m very attached to my books. There are bookcases in every room of my house and to quote Mr. Jefferson, “I cannot live without books.” But while I love looking at a wall of books, am attune to the sound of a rustling newspaper, find the smell of old paper rather heady, and relish the feel of a hardbound book in my hands; I now own a Kindle.

Tucked into a discrete 5x7 black leather cover, the content of my reading is my secret. The observer has no idea whether I’m reading profound scholarly articles, a best selling self help book, or a trashy bodice ripper romance. I, too, have become a member or Readers Anonymous.

So here’s what is interesting to me. While our intellectual life becomes more enigmatic because of technology, that same technology opens our personal life to the world as people post the intimate information on their Facebook page.

So what does it all mean? Well, I just googled Readers Anonymous and it doesn’t exist yet. But when I googled how digital reading changes reading habits I got 32,100, 000 results. Good thing I have plenty of time to read!

The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.