Felix: What are you doing?
Oscar: There are words on this paper, I put it in front of my face, it’s called reading. It’s how I make my living.
It doesn’t have to be on paper any more. We have big screens and little screens and auto-rotate screens and e-ink and backlights and book lights and blogs and blurbs and my recent favorite, the web project: like Project Gutenberg, or The Samuel J. May Anti Slavery Collection from Cornell University, or American Passages.
I like the fact that I get to read for a living. Just like Oscar with his sports page, I essentially make my living by knowing about a bunch of stuff that a student might ask about. In a community college, that’s an enormous range. “I’m doing a paper on…” can be followed by everything from “The Pastafarians” (actually I nixed that one) to pediatric oncology to the competitive internet market for women’s apparel. I spend a lot of time on the scholarly journal databases from my college library, sure. But I also hit the Washington Post (always learn something from Eugene Robinson and often from Jennifer Rubin) and the New York Times and the New Republic and I have even been known to learn something by flying past the Economist in a doctor’s waiting room.
I like catalogs too. Planet Literature’s home base is littered with them, from the absurd (Amazing Cleansing Potion CLEARS your Body of Toxins! with a before picture of a frowning lady and an after one of her smiling, sometimes accompanied by pictures of her toxins) to the ethereal (Organic Naturally Renewing Bamboo Toilet Paper comes in a tubeless roll wrapped in biodegradable 100% recycled rice paper — Buy twelve rolls now and get the 100% natural Organic Bamboo Yoga Mat absolutely free). I love The Great Courses (They always “want me back,” which is code for I’ve only bought about ten courses this calendar year instead of my customary even dozen) and Levenger (where living is, apparently, the precise equivalent to reading). Land’s End seems to think I want a pair of pants with a pocket just the right size to hold a starfish. If not, there are always pictures of Golden Retrievers who smile so much they must never have any toxins.
Just to keep up appearances, the powder room at Planet Literature home base usually has an Oxford University Press catalog (Spring New Titles and Full Backlist) on the top of the pile. The AARP bulletin is underneath.
Now at base camp (WCCC Outpost No. 124-03), all reading material is pertinent to the Professional Development of the Scholar, Educator, Philosopher, Mentor and Tutor. Of course, given the possibility of questions about Spaghetti Monsters, this is a fairly open field. News bulletins about the future of higher education in the state of New Jersey sit side by side with Joseph Epstein’s Fabulous Small Jews which a colleague graciously lent me last month. I read the flyers on the club bulletin boards. I read the class cancellation notices. I simply read. It’s as if my eyes can’t do anything else.
Lots of links here today and not much substance, I know, but I have a kind of crazy two days ahead of me, including a presentation. I hope to be back to my regular Sunday schedule with something a bit more literary, but I was just struck by how much time I spend peering at words, on pages and screens, and felt like I needed to add some more.
Talk soon. Wish me luck.