I just had the chance to read “The Vice of Reading,” by Edith Wharton. It’s an essay in which she takes the position that there are certain types of readers, which she calls “Mechanical Readers” that basically should not read and are harmful to literature in general. She contends that real readers, like musicians or other talented people, are born, not made. Mechanical readers are those for whom reading is a task–people who consciously make it a habit to read and who keep track of how much they have read. She explains four reasons that these types of people are harmful, the gravest of which is “the crime of luring creative talent into the ranks of mechanical production.”
It’s an interesting point of view. I don’t think I agree with her opinion that a good reader can’t be made–I think that with enough exposure and the right circumstances most people could become good readers. The essay has something of a condescending tone to it, but that does not mean that most of what she says is not true. What type of reader am I? I’m not really sure–which may in and of itself place me squarely in the mechanical side of things.
If you’d like to read this essay, you can find it here: The Vice of Reading, by Edith Wharton.