Linda Tiessen Wiebe
THE BRIGHT YELLOW letters on a fire-engine
red cover call out alarmingly: RUINED BY READING. How can reading ruin
you? Reading too much? Reading for the wrong reasons? Ruined for life,
or ruined by mundanity? I was expecting admonishment on my reading habits.
Then I noticed the cover drawing: a young girl sitting on a swing that
is also a parachute. She is steering it, and the sail of the parachute
is an open book. My first clue.
Without a table of contents or an introduction, Lynne Sharon Schwarz
weaves together stories to describe the effect of reading in her life,
and by implication, ours. Although categorized as memoir, Ruined
By Reading reads like a novel whose narrative is drawn
by the needle of reading. Like the girl on the cover I felt myself
sailing through a landscape, being guided gently but firmly. It was
an adventure to discover that how we read impacts who we become.
Perhaps the title is a play on the subversive aspect of reading. Alberto
Manguel, in A
History of Reading, traces the relationship between reading
and revolution. Bookworm children are often admonished to go outside
and play, implying that being absorbed in a book is not engagement in
real life. Adults absorbed in a good book are somehow seen as selfish
or anti-social. The implication by society is that reading can detract
from real life. The irony is reading well can ruin the complacency which
advocates this hyper-activity.
always enjoyed reading. The beauty and economy of language and its power
to suggest images is thrilling. I loved reading Mortimer Adlers
To Read a Book, which encourages readers to make a book
their own by active reading. But somewhere along the line my love of
reading became compulsive. I became enamored with the idea that reading
can improve me. Subtly, the suggestion of the Western Canon as the grail
of enlight-enment crept into my consciousness. I started treating my
reading lists like spiritual disciplines, and grew anxious at how few
books in a year I could read. Finishing books became the focus, instead
of feeling them, tracing my own thinking in response to them. Schwartz
adroitly calls this vying for approval; someone out there gives you
a list, and you complete it, feeling youve accomplished something.
Not that having a reading plan is a bad idea. But choosing what to read
is complex. At times the ramifications of choice verge on the
metaphysical, the moral, even the absurd. To read the dead or the living,
the famous or the ignored, the kindred spirits or the bracingly unfamiliar?
Lynne points out that children read what they want while adults read
looking over their shoulders. Interestingly, in Ruined By Reading
Lynne talks mostly about books that impacted her as a child. One or
her favourite stories as a child was A Little Princess, because
it talked about listening to ones inner voice. A lot of the stories
she enjoyed were about this voice and the choices needed to live from
its guidance: We truly are what we feel ourselves to be, [and]
we can trust our inner certainty regardless of how others perceive us.
Reading books that tug at you is one way to honour this voice.