The culture of reading is dead.

6 12 2008

As I wallow through a big stack of papers this weekend, I’m struck again by a phenomenon that hit me out of the blue a few years ago. I call it the floating quote. Rather than introduce the quotation and maybe even the source, they have it sitting in the middle of the paragraph like an island. “I am the King! I am the king! King of the world! Eat your words! Eat! Eat your words!.” If you didn’t know the book I assigned was about Muhammad Ali, you might never know who said that.

Floating quotes have always puzzled me, because anybody who reads books knows that absolutely no published works have quotations sitting in the middle of paragraphs without some context. Perhaps naively, just today I just realized the problem here is that the students who do this don’t read books. Unfortunately, they’re not alone.

Just today, UD sent me to this strange style piece about book clubs in the NYT. I have no problem with people who want to read John Grisham rather than John Updike. In fact, I just finished The Appeal and enjoyed it a great deal. My problem is not with reading mass-market fiction but with needing to hire someone to help you discuss it:

“It’s because there’s an ayatollah,” said Esther Bushell, a professional book-group facilitator who leads a dozen suburban New York groups and charges $250 to $300 a member annually for her services. “This person expects to choose all the books and to take over all the discussions. And when I come on board, the ayatollah is threatened and doesn’t say anything.” Like other facilitators, she is hired for the express purpose of bringing long-winded types in line.

[Emphasis added]

Does everything everybody does these days have to be social AND commercial? When reading ceases to be solitary it ceases to be therapeutic, and when that happens it also ceases to be useful. No wonder so many of my students have stopped doing it.



2 responses

6 12 2008

I believe my students have largely been told (in high school) that a quotation cannot be its own sentence. Personally, I disagree.

I far prefer a floating quote to a a quote accompanied by “in the sixth chapter of his autobiography, _The Autobiography of Muhammad Ali_, Ali writes ‘I am the king!'”

Ideally, we would get, “after defeating Foreman, Ali bragged ‘I am the king!’ to reporters.”

7 12 2008

PS. I would be totally fine with “I am the king!’ Ali was a braggart, and made lots of enemies this way.”

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