How to Read Radically: A Primer
Here at Geez, we work hard to print the best ideas our community of writers, artists, and activists have to offer. While I’m sure you read every page of each Geez at least twice, we only release a new issue every three months. This means you probably have time to read other books, magazines, and online articles as well. That’s why this week on the Geez blog we’re offering a few quick tips and tricks to keep your reading eyes radical. These suggestions are made with novels, news, and non-fiction in mind, but if you’re the scriptural type, they can apply to the bible as well.
Surrounded by twitter-flitting smart phones and attention sapping listicles, it’s become an act of social disobedience to just sit and read a book. Even if you’re reading the least socially conscious of guilty-pleasure paperbacks, there’s a certain asceticism to doing so for an hour or two without checking your notifications online. The impulse to passively scroll through news feeds is the same as the impulse that tells us to buy things we don’t need, and not unlike our tendency to stick to surface level conversations. So if we can relearn how to sit with a book for a while, we’ll be more content with what we’ve got, and able to engage more deeply with the people around us. I don’t care how convenient it is – there’s never a good excuse for reading 1984 on an iPad.
Who’s behind the words?
If you only ever consider the thoughts of upwardly mobile white males, there’s a good chance your worldview will reflect the outlook of those authors. Of course, not all white dudes are evil (check out Mark Van Steenwyk or Ched Meyers if you need proof), but it’s important to pay attention to the social location of the author. Start your own personal VIDA count, and look for writers who come from underprivileged communities, or at least write as advocates.
Publishers matter too. Massive corporations won’t sign off on anything too critical of capitalism or the status-quo unless they’re sure to make wads of cash. While you might want to support small independent publishers like ARP, Fernwood Publishing, or Geez (shameless plug) with your purchases, borrow books published by large companies from the library or a friend.
For the record: Christian publishers Zondervan (which has the sole rights to the NIV) and Thomas Nelson are both great-grandchildren of Rupert Murdoch – the same guy who heads up Fox News and The Wall Street Journal. He doesn’t need your patronage to stay afloat.
Who has the power?
Whether you’re reading the news or novels, pay attention to who’s holding the power. Do you tend to favour stories that glorify politicians, business leaders, and the police? Or does what you read dignify folks who are usually disenfranchised? Does that news story celebrate typical narratives of success and heroism? Or does it encourage humility and community? Look for novels that pass the Bechdel test, and watch out for authors who appeal to socially constructed sources of authority (like fame, success, or reputation) to convince you of their arguments.
If you can be aware of these issues when you read, you’ll be more alert to injustices in the “real world.”
Embrace the struggle
Reading, on its own, won’t topple mega-corps or curb global warming. But books and magazines can encourage us to slow down, disconnect from our hyper-productive and distracted lives, and encounter ideas that may challenge our assumptions. How do you keep your reading radical? Share your recommendations in the comments below.
Tim Runtz is an Associate Editor and Circulation Manager at Geez. He lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.