Reverting to Type: a Reader’s Story

Since the publication of my book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, a number of people have asked me about my history as a reader: what I read when I was younger, how my reading shaped my own development, and so on. They are sometimes surprised to learn that almost all of my reading, before my college years, involved science (especially astronomy) and science fiction. In transforming myself into a literary reader — so literary that I became an English professor — I was in many ways making quite a break with my readerly past.

But in the last decade or so I have found myself gradually shifting back towards those early interests. I haven’t ceased to be a literary reader, by any means, but my old attractions to science and technology, and to fictions that explore science and technology, have reasserted themselves.

So largely in order to make sense of this matter for myself, I wrote an essay — a brief reader’s memoir — about my shifting allegiances. I think the story is worth reading not because I am especially interesting but because it makes a few valuable points about the shaping power of our early reading experiences, and about the relations between what C. P. Snow famously called “The Two Cultures” of the sciences and the humanities.

The essay is about 12,000 words long. It’s called “Reverting to Type: a Reader’s Story,” and you can get it only as a Kindle edition here. I hope you enjoy it.