These attitudes reflect the assumption, sadly mistaken, that reading itself is a harmless, even a beneficial activity. True, it is impossible to live in our world without reading sometimes. But that doesn't make it healthy.
And you know it, don't you: there is something shameful about reading, which is why you do it in secret. Or is it just you? Let us consider the possibility that reading is all right for everyone else, but not for you. Perhaps you are the only person on earth for whom reading is a real problem. That, unlikely as it is, would still not change the fact that you feel driven to conceal the extent and the nature of your reading from those around you.
For example, John Z. claimed he never read in secret. Yes, occasionally he would read for a while behind closed doors, but only because he wanted peace and quiet. In group discussion, however, he broke down at last and admitted that would typically close his book and slide it under some papers, or a sofa cushion, whenever someone would enter the room. "Why?" he cried out in anguish, sobbing heart-rendingly. "Why would I do that unless I was ashamed of it? Unless I was afraid somebody would discover my--secret?"
It became evident that he was only truly ashamed of certain kinds of reading materials: bestselling self-help books, New Age literature, popularized books on quantum physics, brain science, and other fields outside his academic specialty. He was perfectly able to read in public scholarly studies of antebellum American history, his discipline at the university, and professional journals in his field; he was even able to read popular novels (especially on planes). But he was deathly afraid of being branded a devotee of "self-help"--a manifest sign both of his sickness and of his desire to be well.
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Copyright 1993 Doug Robinson and Bill Kaul