Portrait of a Reader
This is me, circa 1980, with Gypsy - I was about 8 years old. She was my favorite pony at the riding school that I attended for a few years. I started thinking back to this time in my life while listening to an essay called "Why Bother" on the audiotape of Jonathan Franzen's "How to be Alone" that I was listening to while working on my books this weekend. The essay explores the issue of how fewer people seem to be reading nowadays, and Franzen questions why he should bother writing novels. The bit of the essay that really caught my attention was Franzen's citation of the work of Shirley Heath,a linguistic anthropologist,who has studied the reading habits of children. When I heard her description of the "social isolate" reader, I felt as though she was describing me. The social isolate reader has a "displaced" sociabilty. While she may be very social, she feels different from everyone around her and finds her community in the books that she reads. I was painfully shy as a child, and loved to read - still do. Another characteristic of the social isolate reader is that she feels restless without the company of books, and must return to reading - in Franzen's words "may feel a gnawing, almost remorseful need to be alone and do some reading to reconnect to that community", and it's this need amongst people like me that is keeping the literary novel alive. Another facet of the theory is that many social isolates turn out to be writers, and while that doesn't describe me, perhaps it's the reason that I love making books. It's a mediative, solitary exercise that allows my mind to drift and enter an imaginary world. I can become the little girl in the picture again, well, minus the horse. It's kind of ironic that listening to "How to be Alone" made me feel a part of a wider community of readers.