I saw a couple of posts this week that, while not on the same topic directly, both spoke to a larger issue.
First, from Rachel's post on reading guilt:
I read a lot. I read a lot of books that I’m pretty sure I’m going to like. When my constant refrain is “so many books, so little time,” doesn’t it make sense to choose books I’m pretty sure I will enjoy? How much obligation do I have – as a reader, as a book blogger, as a consumer – to discover and promote books that may not get as big of a voice as others because they come from small publishing houses or because they do not get as large a cut of the promotional pie in their big houses? And is the obligation to my readers, to authors who need the voice, or to myself ? Am I too comfortable in my reading choices? And is that okay?
Next, from Amy's thoughts on reading and diversity:
If your passion are the new big books I’m not saying you should abandon them, and I have nothing against people who read only review copies or only new books. But I do think, as Teresa said, that we all have to think about what our passions truly are and what we find important. We have to realize that these books are often white, heterosexual, cisgender, and North American or European. If you only request those books, what message is that sending to the publishers about what sells? Diverse books are being published (though not enough), so if new books are your passion there are still options to diversify if you are willing to try!
Both posts imply, quite correctly I think, that our reading time and attention as both social and economic value. Not only does what we read influence what gets published, but also what kinds of authors and ideas we let into our consciousness.
Rachel's concern about split "obligations" between her own pleasure, emerging authors, and her readers is a tacit acknowledgement that there is no single driver of our desire to be good readers: we do not serve one master when deciding what to read.
Amy uncovers a deep schism in our reading desires with this phrase: "we all have to think about what our passions truly are and what we find important." A couple of things are implicit here. First, the notion of obligation in the "have to." I don't think she is suggesting that we are in thrall to some external arbiter of our reading, but rather that in order to align our practice and our ideology, we must be watchful.
Second, the coordinated phrases "what our passions are" and "what we find important" shows that these two elements are not always the same: we sometimes sacrifice our passion in the service of a greater good and we sometimes forgo the "important" concern for something we enjoy.
Ideally, we would all buy, read, review, and champion books that we love to read and that serve the causes and ideas we care about. But, by and large, we oscillate between the two, sometimes reading for ourselves only and sometimes with an eye toward the wider world.
So my questions to you are the following:
Do you think about the impact of your reading outside of your own pleasure?
What reading "causes" do you care about and how do you express that care?
What balance do you strike? Mostly for yourself with the occasional forced reading of something you think important?
How much effort do you put into finding out about books outside of your immediate recommendation/exposure sources?