Freedom to Read

Another golden lady, this one Fragonard’s lovely portrait of a young girl reading.

Preparing for a blog about Freedom to Read week (February 26 to March 3) I searched for images of books and readers.

There were dozens of paintings but the images of readers were, almost without exception, female.

Was reading for pleasure considered a female domain, like embroidery… quiet, refined, self-indulgently frivolous, dangerous if pursued independently, acceptable only if channelled into something pious, useful or conventionally approved?

Startling!  Scholarship and professions requiring advanced university education were historically considered a male domain.  Only in my lifetime have we seen women admitted into law, medicine, and engineering.  Forty two years ago I asked the beautiful young woman attending me during labor when the doctor would be arriving.  She replied, to my embarrassment and relief, that she was the doctor.  The idea had never entered my mind, and yet I thought I was open-minded and well-informed, up to date on the latest feminist causes and publications.

Well, I missed Freedom to Read Week when I slept my way through the flu.  I had intended to reread at least one or two of my favourite banned books, and to write a series of short essays on how reading changed my life and has informed everything I am and believe. So, better late than never, here are a few links I found informative

Check out the middle section of this essay by Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic… THE LIBRARY, like the book, is under assault by the new technologies… I have quoted below merely the passage that introduces his argument in favour of collecting and cherishing “real” books, even the old and the tired, especially the old, and the tired.

Many books are read but some books are lived, so that words and ideas lose their ethereality and become experiences, turning points in an insufficiently clarified existence, and thereby acquire the almost mystical (but also fallible) intimacy of memory. In this sense one’s books are one’s biography. This subjective urgency bears no relation to the quality of the book: lives have been changed by kitsch, too. What matters is that one’s pores be opened, and that the opening be true .

And this is a lovely rant about the challenge of finding a really good bookstore. (Our local Chapters megastores have driven out all but a few independents, which are hanging on for dear life.  But then Chapters sells baby toys, candles, and pricey giftware, and has a Starbucks on the premises. You can also but books at Costco, Walmart, and the drugstores, although I refuse to do so!)

This still is not really about freedom to read and banned books… I will have to come back to that another time.  But if you love reading, check out this blog , READ ALL DAY!  I would really like to meet Nina!

Now, I must put a bit of effort into tidying my life and my house before I can reward myself with another coffee and an hour with my current book.

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