It's holiday time.
Days loosen up a bit. There's suddenly more space. There's time to read, not just in the usual bite-sized chunks of busy work days, but time to really devour books. That's how I've always viewed the holidays: a decadent, perhaps greedy, opportunity to consume as many books as I can.
In a very interesting article on the relationship between food metaphors and reading, Louise Adams explores the question of whether devouring books is a sign of superficiality in the reader. She states:
"This metaphor, however, hasn't always seemed so benign. Two hundred years ago, describing someone as 'devouring' a book would have been an act of moral censure. The long, turbulent relationship between reading and eating is invisible to modern eyes, yet in our media-soaked culture, it is more pertinent than ever. The unexamined language of 'devouring' idealises one kind of reading at the expense of others, leaving readers impoverished."History has shown how different types of texts and different ways of reading were not all seen as equal. From Renaissance scholars like Francis Bacon, who stated that "some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed" to 18th century writers who distinguished between appetite (connecting reading with the physicality of the body) and taste (which connected reading to the mind). Coming out of this background then, devouring a book would appear to be crude and vulgar. The speed associated with devouring a book would also have been seen to lessen the nourishment gained from the text.
These ideas have not been completely sustained in the modern world, where speed is an essential quality of survival. 'Devouring' has come to denote enjoyment and fast-paced, popular consumption. However, many of these ideas are relevant today, particularly because our need to 'devour' literature quickly means we often sacrifice time for slower reflection. (As I've argued here).
When I think of the word 'devouring' in relation to books, my associations are overwhelmingly positive. I see it as good, as it shows that books are being read and this is a point that Adams also makes in assessing where 'devouring books' leaves us today:
"This defensiveness about popular reading now coincides with another phenomenon: the fear that reading might lose its cultural potency completely. This is why the language of reading-as-devouring is rehabilitated, with its unprecedented positive spin. 'Devouring' is reclaimed because, at its base, it signifies interest. And in a world where Facebook, WhatsApp and Netflix compete for our attention, any interest in good old-fashioned reading is encouraged at all costs."I guess the point being made is that reading cannot be seen as one homogeneous activity, but rather as something that takes on diverse forms and functions depending on context and on the different times in our lives. As with food, I suppose, we sometimes snack or binge or savour.
What Adams suggests is this:
"The language of digestion encourages slowed-down reading habits (along Slow Food lines). It reminds us to be more attentive to the subtle ways in which texts have been put together by their creators - to think before just bingeing upon pages."