Introducing “On Culture,” a new column by super-thinker Mikita Brottman, chronicling the weird and wonderful world of Baltimore, with special focus on fascinating small things oft overlooked.
This is an extract from my book about reading, The Solitary Vice (Counterpoint). I wrote the book partly in response to my work teaching literature to art students at MICA. My students read all the time, though they often do so in ways I found difficult to recognize (for example, they read online, on their laptops or phone screens, or via e-books). This led me to re-think some of my assumptions about reading, and literacy in general.
It’s about as difficult not to judge someone by the books (or lack of them) on their shelves as it is not to judge a book by its cover. But I keep trying, and I think I’m getting better at not jumping to conclusions. After all, books can be all kinds of things to all kinds of people—they can be tools, guides, investments, manuals, home décor, work, produce, or just a messy pile of clutter. I try to remember, too, that not all readers accumulate books. Some see no point in keeping books after they’ve read them, and will sell them, or give them away. More and more people are getting into the habit of reading e-books on their laptops or BlackBerrys, and more and more libraries are being converted to electronic form. Though it may well turn out that the portable, private form of the book—the kind we can hold in our hands, and cradle in our lap—continues to provide, for most people, the ideal fulfillment of immersion in another world, this doesn’t mean it’s the only way this need can be satisfied. Deep immersion is a style of reading which, in itself, is a by-product of the growth of the novel—traditionally considered to be a grand, fictional creation to be read at a leisurely pace, and in a private setting. Novel reading is certainly well suited to the lap or the bed, but other kinds of reading require different postures.
Mikita teaches literature and film studies at the Maryland Institute College of Art.