Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Amy King, On Reading

"Start A Revolution: Read This Book

Reading appears passive because it takes place in a chair, on a bed, at the beach, in the tub, etc. Reading is action, exercise demanding strength of mind. Therein lies the resistance ('so boring!') of folks spoon-fed DVDs and television growing up (John Berryman replies, 'Ever to confess you're bored / means you have no /Inner Resources.'). Reading these words requires mind muscle that the average episode of Law and Order does not (exemption: visual arts can render complex readings). Watching takes less effort, but using your cabeza to think-into-being concepts, characters, and ideas lying dormant in a book, well, this means working the imagination into a sweat and, by default, developing other difficult-to-discuss human attributes like empathy and conscience. We stretch and test and grow those head-muscles through debate, analysis, and reading. When we neglect such exercises, when we simply let worldly representations enter our heads unquestioned, those muscles atrophy. We go numb, passive and blanketly accept most anything, eventually. Sense of self fades, as does ability to discriminate harmful practices and ideas from better ones. We turn sheep and look to the flock for answers. Nietzsche weeps. We can’t imagine walking in another’s shoes; the stuff that makes us human eludes. Pull the blanket tighter around our favorite default setting (‘me, me, me’) instead of becoming a little less selfish. Reading enables identification with the other (O romantic notion) and to think beyond and, conversely, add to our knowledge-base. Apropos, David Foster Wallace quoted Don DeLillo, '…if serious reading disappears in this country, it will mean that whatever--it will mean that whatever we mean by the term identity has ceased to exist.' Why schedule work-outs for the body, but neglect everything above the neck? Start a revolution, 'Kill your television' and 'Steal this book.'"

Amy King's most recent book is Slaves to Do These Things (Blazevox), and forthcoming, I Want to Make You Safe (Litmus Press). She is currently preparing a book of interviews with the poet Ron Padgett. She also teaches English and Creative Writing at SUNY Nassau Community College. With Ana Božičević, King co-curates the Brooklyn-based reading series, The Stain of Poetry. For more information, please visit her website here.}


  1. I love this! Exactly right. We've already killed our television (about two years ago), and our kids read, read, read. And are clearly better people for it.

  2. I love to watch some television but I think having time for both in your day is really important. That being said, as a kid I hardly ever watched TV and I definitely think I am the better for it :)