There have been a lot of academic books and high-journalism opinions about the end of English Literature as a discipline or, even more alarming, the end of Reading itself.  As both an English professor and a fan studies person, I take these claims with a grain of salt.  Regarding literature as a field – well, there might be fewer English literature majors, but most students still want to take literature courses as part of their undergraduate degree, and I think many people still want to be guided in their reading towards stuff that is good.  And capital R-Reading, from what I can see, isn’t in as much jeopardy as people think. 

In his recent article, The Reading Crisis, A.O. Scott agrees, explaining that people have always worried about the state of reading, particularly where the kids are concerned:

Nowadays parents and other concerned adults worry that young people don’t read or love reading enough. Their counterparts in the 18th and 19th centuries were apt to fret that the young loved reading too much. 

And as someone who’s spent much of my life in fanfiction reading and writing communities, I’ve never been worried that young people aren’t reading. They may be reading different things than people expect, but let’s face it: most people aren’t reading Paradise Lost (or at least not every day) and most stuff on the NY Times Best Sellers List isn’t anything particularly thought provoking or improving (the NYT Book Review of the same week as Scott’s essay is topped by the likes of James Patterson and John Grisham etc. I personally find fanfiction–or at least, the fanfiction stories I finish reading, which isn’t all of them–infinitely more thought provoking and improving!) 

Scott concludes his essay by wandering into fannish territory, using D&D to describe some different ideas of reading and readers:

If you’ll forgive a Dungeons and Dragons reference, it might help to think of these types of reading as lawful and chaotic. Lawful reading rests on the certainty that reading is good for us, and that it will make us better people. We read to see ourselves represented, to learn about others, to find comfort and enjoyment and instruction. Reading is fun! It’s good and good for you.

Chaotic reading is something else. It isn’t bad so much as unjustified, useless, unreasonable, ungoverned. Defenses of this kind of reading, which are sometimes the memoirs of a certain kind of reader, favor words like promiscuous, voracious, indiscriminate and compulsive. Those terms, shadowed by connotations of pathology and vice, answer a vocabulary of belittlement — bookworm, bookish, book-smart — with assertions of danger. Bibliophilia is lawful. Bibliomania is chaotic.

I am both a lawful and chaotic reader–though chaotic reading is the most fun, isn’t it? 😀

–Francesca Coppa, Fanhackers volunteer

The End Of Reading (?)