Fresh Start

I suppose I should just start by saying that I’ve never blogged before, and really only got started reading blogs recently. I spent an hour trying to figure out what template to use, and am still not quite sure I’m happy. I’m not sure what to anticipate about readers of this blog, or whether I would be distressed if the only people who read it are family who feel obligated or students curious about their prof. Nevertheless, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to think of “what looked best.” After getting the page up, I read somewhere that choosing generic terms like “Read” or “Write” for a title and domain name is also a bad idea. So I’m off to a poor start.

Still, I guess what I’m interested in is the peculiar shape of those everyday things people do without thinking, like reading and writing. In Michel de Certeau’s phrase, The Practice of Everyday Life. So if the title is banal, perhaps at least I’ll figure out some mildly interesting things to say about these banal topics.In part my new interest in blogging springs from being a teacher and trying to think about how my students communicate, the media through which they read and write, and how that media affects the way they read and write.

All of this is, I realize, old hat to experts in the field of electronic communication. But I guess one thing that’s intrigued me about the world of blogs is how things like expertise count and do not count. Do degrees and essays published and lectures given and promotions received–all the typical means of accruing status and clout in the traditional worlds of academe and even print more generally–do these things really count for much in a world of blogs? I guess it would be naïve to say that they don’t count at all, but my general sense is that people don’t read an academic’s blog because she is an intellectual. When an academic accrues some status on the web (how “status” is determined on the web is an intriguing side interest) I think it’s because she reads and writes well, does it in some kind of imaginative and effective way. The triumph, again, of rhetoric, if in a very different shape and form. This I’m interested in exploring.Thus the title of this blog: “Read, Write, Now.” I’m interested in what’s happening with reading first, and then secondarily how that’s related to writing. I got interested in the topic first with the general explosion of interest in the so-called “reading crisis.” I say so-called not to indicate a cynical disregard for the concerns being raised by the NEA and so many others. Indeed, I really do think that something critical is going on with reading, and I’m not so convinced as digital utopians that what’s happening is all to the good. I’ve snuck a look at my daughter’s Facebook page and those of a number of my students. If this is reading, it’s not hard to imagine why reading comprehension shrinks apace, as does the tolerance for a text even so long as the one I’m now writing. I wonder about the possibilities of democracy in a culture where educated persons have difficulty giving sustained attention to a document as long as the Declaration of Independence (a text I used to require as a short assignment). Still, the nature of what’s happening and its consequences are unclear to me and I want to figure that out and reflect on some of those issues over the course of the next year or so. Additionally, one of the things that fascinates me most is the way reading is imagined in the present. Not so much what reading is, but how the idea and image of reading is functioning in our current cultural climate. Finally, I admit it, “Read” is broad and vague and all-encompassing enough to let me join the millions of others who write about books they like or don’t like.

“Write” probably follows naturally from read. Until very recently I’ve considered myself a writer first—a self-definition I’ve discarded in favor of “Reader”, if for no other reason to poke fun at my students who claim they really love to write but hate to read. Let’s give readers the prestige for once. I’m interested in the interaction of reading and writing. How what we’re reading shapes what we write, and perhaps just as importantly, how the way we write affects the way we read. I finished an MFA at the University of Montana, and I’m still convinced these many years later that it did more for me as a reader than my later graduate studies at Duke.

“Now” may be least important—or too hopelessly vague as a topic–but I guess I’m primarily interested in the shape of reading and writing in the present. How are we different from previous generations, and should we care? Given that the title puns on an imperative—Read right now—I hope, too, that the “now” reflects my own sense of urgency, my sense that reading is important and not to be taken for granted.“Now” also means I can talk about whatever the heck I want, just in case I get bored with reading and writing. Or in case you do.

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