Alexandra Lange | Essays

Reading Out Loud

The Goods funnies, by (L to R) Adam Rex, Carson Ellis and Kevin Cornell (via McSweeney's)

Writing for the Nieman Journalism Lab blog earlier this month, Justin Ellis called The Goods, "McSweeney's latest love note to newspapers."
If I was looking for an easily identifiable trigger for my love of reading, it would most likely be devouring Peanuts (and later Calvin and Hobbes) in the Sunday Star Tribune as a kid.

Mac Barnett, the editor behind McSweeney’s The Goods, had a similar experience. “One of my big memories as a kid, on Sundays, my dad would peel off the funny pages as he would read the newspaper,” Barnett told me. “I think that trained me to have a certain fondness for the newspaper. I don’t think kids have that now.”
The Goods is a half-page weekly comics section, to be edited by McSweeney's and distributed via Tribune Media Services. The idea is to appeal to get kids reading the newspaper, any part of the newspaper, as well as to get their parents to keep buying it.

I subscribe to the print version of the New York Times, so unfortunately there's no chance my local paper will sign up for syndication. But I have also been thinking recently about what the disappearance of the physical newspaper means for my own children, and how I came to read it in the first place. The Sunday funnies are the on-ramp, the gateway drug of newspaper reading. But the important thing is that they are out there on the table, for the bored pancake-eater to pick up. When asked about the future of print for the final edition of the New City Reader, I couldn't come up with any high-faultin' theory, but wrote instead:
This is my emotional fear regarding newspapers:

If you don't get a physical newspaper and have it spread all over the breakfast table, how do your children know you are supposed to read the newspaper? This is a real question. I remember being frustrated and bored by my parents' newspaper habit (as well as their All Things Considered habit), but eventually, because it was there, and because they weren't talking to me, I began to find parts of it that were interesting. If all my son sees is me staring at a screen, I can sometimes call it work and sometimes call it reading the newspaper, but that is not a distinction he can see or participate in. Same thing when you visit someone's house and they are reading the Times on their iPad. Unless you put your own iPad in your bathrobe pocket, all you have is toast. Reading the newspaper is a performance, among other things, and as we compress everything into one device, which performance you are giving becomes unclear.
Sunday's New York Times Magazine brought another take on the sociability of print media, via Sam Anderson's Riff on marginalia, 'What I Really Want Is Someone Rolling Around in the Text.'
Because this yearning for social reading persists. I recently let a friend borrow my copy of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest,” one of the more compulsively annotated books in my library. Midway through her reading, I needed it back, so she switched to a virginal store-bought copy. The fresh one, she told me afterward, felt a little lonely by comparison: she missed the meta-conversation running in the margins, the sense of another consciousness co-filtering D.F.W.’s words, the footnotes to the footnotes to the footnotes to the footnotes.
Social reading. Is that what the kids are going to be calling it in five years? Special clubs where they talk about books that are three-dimensional, in person, with pencils underlinings? (Already I am nostalgic for my college highlighter.) But seriously, how can ownership of an iPad replace the literacy bump attributable to bookshelves? Reading needs to remain a performance art, even if we as parents become increasingly awkward actors.

Posted in: Media, Technology

Comments [1]

I don't think I'll ever read a newspaper not paper - and, of course, my first newspaper reading was the comics, spread on the floor. and I do read annotated books, loved the idea of 'meta-reading'... You think you're weird, but then, you're only one in a crowd of papers and books' lovers. This feels good!
Vania Dantas Pinto

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