Save the readers! Whaddaya mean"Why?"
It will come as a terrible shock to some writers to discover that our symbiotic life forms, sometimes called “readers” by irresponsible publishers, are under threat. Their habitat is under assault from multiple directions. These long suffering creatures are being forced out of their element. Compared to fish out of water, readers out of their element really are in trouble.
The tides of history have gone out for the time being, and left the readers in a sort of rocky desert of grim and gruesome things. The readers are finding their diet changing from nutrient rich books to 500 page jingles. I actually saw a book which I swear was about watching furniture in Peru. Then there’s the insidious academic/management science approach to writing, which apparently involves saying in 40,000 words anything which could be better said in none.
This new environment isn’t doing the readers many favours. They can retreat back to their favourite books, yes, but there’s a rather goldfish-like insecurity about this move. The risk of some new horror penetrating their perceptions is always there. The interest-draining dirges and almost maniacal use of active voice are quite enough to panic anyone who can read, let alone someone who actually likes reading.
The stress is showing. I’ve met highly literate people who I’ve known for years who simply can’t stand modern literature. They don’t even believe it exists, for some reason. They’re nervous, though, despite their noble contempt. Their beloved medium is turning into yet another shopping mall of grinding syntax and those mind-deadening short sentences which infest so many texts like mildew. As a species, readers are definitely looking seriously endangered.
Why save the readers?
Some people, and writers, will object to the idea of saving the readers from anything, let alone extinction. Readers are often seen as threats, more knowledgeable than writers. That tactless bit of reality is what causes so many writers to slither off into that cloistered, sterile world of smug insularity which makes writers festivals such hideous things. The privilege of the writer, when threatened, is to claim some sort of superiority, and that’s a good reason for not admitting readers exist at all.
Writers are entitled to their delusions. Some wouldn’t write at all without them, and nor should they. If writers confined themselves to merely writing about things they actually know something about, literature would be a very shaky science indeed. Most of the best books in history could never have been written. Readers shouldn’t expect writers to understand what they write. They should merely expect them to produce something worth reading.
There are also mitigating circumstances for the readers- They’re as much a result of their mentalities as the writers. Both readers and writers may be off their heads, but that pretty much excuses anything including mass murder legally, so it’s a valid reason for saving the readers.
Reading, as most people know (or should know) involves mental states. The “avid” reader, in fact is a menagerie of mental states, including:
The deep contemplative state preferred by serious book readers
The learning state
- The directly involved state
- The fascinated and genuinely detailed reading state
- The “mad scientist” state, a constant state of revelation
- The academic state- Professionals reading their own subjects
- The skimming state- “I know this subject, what’s new?”
This is supposed to be an article, not a book, but there are many more states. The point about the mental states is that these are actual modes of life for readers.
Read this passage, and see how many detonations you can see in it:
Now is the winter of our she blinked at his impudence discontent, made glorious they left the dunghill where it was summer!
If you happened to notice a few subtle thematic intrusions there, that’s a highly simplified version of how environmental intrusions affect readers and the wider culture.
Now a revelation that may shock you- Readers are living things! Yes, they have actual biological functions, and have occasionally, between chapters of course, been known to reproduce and even breed more readers!
This is where the problems are occurring. Having (usually unintentionally or accidentally) read the various attacks of “the cat sat on the mat” literature, which are believed to be roughly the equivalent of massive doses of contraceptives for readers, the species is now in decline.
Writers must take at least some of the blame for this situation*. Some writers may not be fit to be entrusted with a bucket and spade, let alone some poor defenceless language. Others simply may feel that they should get their revenge on the languages before the lynch mobs find them. Whatever the cause, writers should at least admit that having written, there’s a real risk that their work may be read, however innocently. Some otherwise normal person may have read one’s work, and be infected with it.
(*Not all global disasters are caused by publishers. At least two global catastrophes were not caused by publishers. One was reality TV, and the other was the Hundred Years War. That said, apparently all the other disasters since at least 2500BC were in fact caused by publishers.)
The reader, still dazzled by ferocious tales of people who live in buildings and do things, may tell other readers, who, equally naïve, also read the material. The entire genetic makeup of a whole ecosystem of readers may be affected over time.
Later readers, reading the resulting stories of social collapse and making desperate attempts to smuggle post-it notes of actual expression of language between consenting adults, may understand the risks of this reading but these risks are incurred in real time. The bleating of historical apologia for literature’s descents into the abyss of banal oblivion, however, is usually pretty ineffectual.
The time has come to save the readers! It has actually been suggested (mainly by writers accused of being human) that efforts to produce less mindless reading materials might help. Others have vaguely hinted that the large numbers of people inflicting languages with their increasingly petty and pedantic issues might be helpfully, even whimsically, shot.
Perhaps the most drastic suggestion for saving readers is utterly merciless in its ramifications- Stop telling people what to read and how to read it. The obvious objection to this approach is that it might encourage writers to stop being told what to write and how to write it. That really would be the end of civilization as we know it- or don’t know it. Projections include thousands of unemployed pedants roaming the streets, correcting people’s grammar and mispronouncing things without fear of God or diction.
Cynics believe that this would effectively disenfranchise publishers, and that that’s the real reason for the traditional objection to readers actually reading anything at all. Instead of those dear old recipes for celebrities/nutcases/furniture catalogues and compulsory protagonists, someone might write something interesting.
Of course, the readers will survive, if only out of sheer perversity. They’ll hide in their caves, pretending to watch TV and play video games. They’ll deliberately ignore the neophytes who still admit they read. But they’ll never tell anyone what they read, or where they got the contraband usages of words as more than a way of shifting air around.
Only the truly strong readers will survive, however. There’s another danger, much worse than mere mass illiteracy. Others will become compulsive readers of anything and everything. Like the sad things which study psychology as a way to manipulate others without the intelligence to understand their subject at all, these pseudo-readers could become a hideous plague.
To read without knowledge is worse than a drug. The fatal illusion of knowledge which comes from ignorant reading is worse than any drug. It’s a form of mental death, lost in the logic of cranked out garbage. This is the reading that breeds fanatics and fools. Don’t be surprised to hear mobs chanting jingles while burning heretics who buy other types of soap. Be even less surprised when someone starts explaining that those who believe in the invention of fire and the wheel should be exterminated.
What about the writers, though? If there are no self-confessed readers, what will happen to them? Will they go on the rampage, using unrestrained adjectives and pretending to know what they’re writing about? Will they actually commit the final obscenity, and claim to have new ideas, raving insanely in public and unheeded about metaphors and meanings?
That’s the real reason for saving real readers as more than an underground species. Nobody else would, or could, put up with the real writers.