October is National Book Month: Why Should You Read One?

Tuesday, October 12 2010

Written by Donna Emert

MOSCOW, Idaho – It could be argued that we read now more than ever, perusing blogs, e-mail, texts, tweets and Facebook posts, and sifting through bits of news and shards of data at dot-com information sites.

In October, National Book Month, David Sigler suggests readers take a break from headline-scanning and pick up a good book.

“The act of reading literature is quite different than other forms of reading we do,” said Sigler, professor of 19-century British Romantic literature at the University of Idaho.

Sigler argues that reading a novel, poem, play or screen play is a fundamentally different exercise from reading blogs and e-mail. In a world largely constructed around reading, as it is today, Sigler suggests that literary study remains vitally important.

“It requires a different relationship to the text,” Sigler said. “It’s slow, like the process of making a friend – getting to know someone who is very different from yourself, and learning to investigate and navigate their otherness, responsibly.”

“What I try to teach, and to do in my own work, is to encounter text, not just move through it,” he explained. “When we encounter a text on its own terms and in all its own weirdness, there is always the possibility of surprise. Literary reading requires patiently waiting for something to happen, with no guarantees of success. It is precisely that feeling of uncertainty that makes literature valuable and the study of it different from other disciplines.”

While 19th century fiction and poetry may strike those unfamiliar with it as 200 years too old to be relevant, Sigler argues that it’s especially relevant today. Romantic literature emerged from the period of the French revolution and the beginnings of the industrial revolution, a time of profound political and social change when the parameters of daily life and social convention were suddenly being examined and questioned.

“The British Romantics remind us that there was a time when absolutely everything was up for grabs,” Sigler said. “Studying their work is an object lesson in a kind of openness to the possibility that things could be very different. When we read the Romantics, that is an intellectual possibility that we have to take very seriously.”

Reading literature allows us to become informed participants in the analysis and evolution of ideas, particularly, the ideas and assumptions that shape our lives. That seems like pretty good reason to pick up a book, and something impossible to glean from a tweet.
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s land-grant institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year. The University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation classification for high research activity. The student population of 12,302 includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars, who select from more than 130 degree options in the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Art and Architecture; Business and Economics; Education; Engineering; Law; Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; Natural Resources; and Science. The university also is charged with the statewide mission for medical education through the WWAMI program. The university combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities and focuses on helping students to succeed and become leaders. It is home to the Vandals, the 2009 Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl champions. For more information, visit www.uidaho.edu.

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit www.uidaho.edu.