On pages 6-7 of Why Read?, Mark Edmundson writes
Universities have become sites not for human transformation, but for training and for entertaining. Unconfronted by major issues, students use the humanities as they can. They use them to prepare for lucrative careers. They acquire marketable skills. Or, they find in their classes sources of easy pleasure. They read to enjoy, but not to become other than they are. “You must change your life,” says Rilke’s sculpture of Apollo to the beholder. So says every major work of intellect and imagination, but in the university now—as in the culture at large—almost no one hears.
When I picked up this book to begin to read it, I had some fairly high expectations. For the most part, I enjoy reading. Literature classes offer a chance for me to explore works that maybe I would not consider reading on my own otherwise, whether it be because I have heard negative reviews of the books in question or because I haven’t even heard of the books in the first place. So this book, Why Read?, a book about reading, seemed great. I really thought I would enjoy it—enjoy being the operative word.
And then I start reading this book and here’s this Edmundson guy telling me that I am totally, utterly, entirely wrong, and I probably won’t learn anything if I’m doing it to enjoy it. He accuses today’s college-student population of being completely consumer-driven, and incapable of improvement and change because we want everything we do in life to entertain us. I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to enjoy what we do here in college. There is a difference between entertainment and enjoyment, and Edmundson seems to have made them one and the same. If you don’t enjoy what you are doing with your life, in or out of college, then why do it? With our undergraduate studies, we are preparing for the rest of our lives. It is perfectly fine to want to enjoy it, especially if it costs $25,000 a year. So what, instead, is the “point” of reading, and college overall, according to Edmundson? What is his definition of “enjoying” reading, and what is yours?