Not long ago I planned to write a story about an anti-reader. S/he will be a bit chilly.
“We have a way of trending on problematic subjects, have we not?” s/he says.
“No,” I lie. “Qua genre, it doesn’t have to be tragedy or political. Happy endings are thriving.”
“Hmm. OK.” S/he accepts. “But don’t victimize me.”
Backstory-wise we are all victims of de-reading, as they call the drop in reading locally. It struck everybody. The more demanding the kind of book, like literary novels or poetry, the greater, they warned, the suffering. ‘Go dumb them down quickly,’ publishers, bookshops and spouses urged the authors in unison. Then they saw that (stupid) comics and (dumb) thrillers are duped even graver, while (silly) romance novels are the most badly hit. This book type’s historically expansive readership, among whom the anti-reader’s mothers, has been scythed. ‘Who is really still reading a book?’ news tweets whine, ‘you belong to a minority.’ But the anti-reader doesn’t read clickbait headlines either.
Yet one wonders where anti-readers come from. I don’t think s/he is slumming in the metropoles’ outskirts that lie waiting to be gentrified, where reading is for the sissies.
“You tell me,” s/he says.
Well, my grandmothers tried to break free, not fervently but steady, from the rural & pauper values of the gray low lands by the sea. They finished their five or even six years at school, in the back of the class, so that they weren’t in the way between civilization and the relatively well-to-do students. Afterwards, the grannies certainly continued to read, under the only light bulb in the house.
“But I don’t remember anyone actually reading in my childhood. I remember how I often asked my mother to read to me. Yes in a minute, she routinely said, and I also remember myself raring, but the reading part has vanished. Reading was just not heroic enough, I think, to keep it standby in long-term memory. But wait, I do remember my grandfather with his forefinger on the paper, reading the bible aloud—the other grandfather was jewish—in a language we didn’t speak.”
The anti-reader laughs, shrugs. “Reading is not breathtaking business. It was never a sacral activity in a well attended arena; gods don’t read.”
“And you,” I ask, “do you want to be remembered? Is that why you are anti-reading?”
“Can you offer me a cup of coffee before we get started on the closed questions?”
I nod, “I am sorry.”
“Readers,” s/he explains, “get attacked in the bookish act. In Poe’s Raven, for instance, the poor guy was immersed in old books. My point is: you need some protection, as a reader.”
This is a practical worry, I know. “Librarians host dread and blood. Libraries are the No. 1 unsafe setting. Dracula, Necronomicon, It.”
“Excuse me,” the anti-reader interrupts, “before you ask: it’s not Stephen King on a cocktail of drugs, it is a realism thing. Readers are inclined not to get involved in a crime, not even if fruitnapping were committed directly across from their house: ‘What’s that seizing noise?’ ‘Turn off the e-reader light!’ ‘Someone’s yelling? Lay low!’ ‘Keep quiet. First finish my page!’”
“Are you unionized?”
“What? No!” s/he says. “Because of the “anti”?”
“It may,” I suggest, “indicate opposition.”
“What do you need me to say?” S/he sounds angry now. “‘A government claims that reading makes you more socially adept, and at the same time it raises the tax on books: isn’t that a scorning defiance of sociality’? I won’t say it. It’s not them.”
“Listen,” I try to placate, “I was a sickly teen, too limp to be ideological. I read piles, just to pass the time: reading ended up being the only thing I’m good at.”
“As it is impossible to fail in novel reading.”
“Perhaps escapism,” I add. “Addiction is exaggerated.”
“Now, suppose you’re dating. The date doesn’t read, you have zero to talk about, you give them a book, you break up anyway, you find the book on their OKCupid profile as their favorite.”
“And they brag that it changed their life? Happens all the ti—if is a trusted title, you mean? Incrowd?”
“Yes, literary,” s/he pauses, “taste.”
“Oh any dystopian tale will do… Are you getting readerly?” I inquire.
“Please do not write that down,” s/he says and I regret the anti-reader plan.
“…as long as it’s about,” I conclude, “the nastiest sides of human existence, with chapters full of unlikeable characters, who try to teach you that after immense suffering you deserve nothing.”