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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of October 9 - 15, 2002

Opinion Columns

To read or not to read

Commentary by JoELLEN COLLINS

"Without knowledge, I am blind," one Afghani woman said. Another said, "To read is to see."

The New York Times, Sept. 22, 2002

Anybody who watches television or checks the Internet can catch up quickly with the most dramatic, violent and often salacious events out there everyday.

A woman caught beating her four-year-old? If one stays in front of a TV with a remote control, one can see the videotape of that action repeated endlessly for a public eager to cluck their tongues.

Certainly, there are times when we are bombarded by disturbing images. No one can criticize the impulse to turn off the TV and read a good book when such exaggerated examples of human misconduct are everywhere on the tube. Two friends of mine react to the onslaught of negative news in different ways.

I am talking in this column about newspapers, and the reality that many great papers in the world are either changing to conform more to a sound-byte mentality or are finding an increasingly resistant audience. The brutality of the world does seem closer than ever; we are now aware of man's inhumanity in vivid ways even my parents didn't experience with the censored newsreels of World War II. Thus, several people I know are opting not to spend time reading a daily newspaper. Locals will still peruse this weekly, of course: we find news more interesting if it is close to home. But what about the ritual of reading a morning paper? Is that an activity we will soon relegate to some vague memory of a different era, given all the other ways one can spend spare time?

One of my friends is an admitted news junkie. When she visited me in Venice with another friend, one of the three of us embarked every morning through the maze of zigzag Venetian streets in search of a kiosk selling The International Herald Tribune. Otherwise, her day was ruined, and ours started much later.

Many minutes were devoted to the acquisition of that particular drug, the news. (I learned to appreciate the size and scope of The Trib, by the way. It spends what I perceive is just the right amount of time on a world-view of present history. There is a dearth of articles on tabloid events such as extra-marital affairs or show-biz gossip.) So, this friend chooses to read about the threatening events of an increasingly scary world, learn the history and politics of important issues, and feel enlightened by her reading.

Another friend of mine has developed a view of daily news as hideous. He would rather not confront man's terrible penchant for violence by reading about the disasters of the world. Since he figures he can't change any of that, he prefers to enjoy his spare time in hiking, watching sports or finding some serenity on a daily basis. The news has become anathema. Perhaps his view is sensible: why should I become disturbed by knowing of the grief and pain that seems to be everywhere? Why should I expose myself to these unhappy realities?

Perhaps itís better to wear blinders and keep to oneís own path without distractions.

I am somewhere in between. I don't look at a daily paper with regularity any more, and when I do, I admit to reading occasional junk news along with the more serious stuff. Before I open the "Opinion" section of the Sunday New York Times, I turn to the magazine section and start the Sunday puzzle or acrostic.

I love gossip about celebrities and pore over carefully many items of "non-essential" news such as book reviews or the entertainment section. I am not immune to fluff. I even found myself looking over the wedding page recently, studying the photos of the couples, wondering what would become of them. This happened on the first day the Times allowed a same-sex marriage to be covered in that section, which in itself was newsworthy, a harbinger of society's changes.

I certainly find myself reading about awful events, even though I canít change much that happens. The reality is that the world is full of sadness. I was drawn to the coverage of the stories of those victims of Sept. 11 featured in The Times, each person given due tribute and honor for a life cut short. Those stories make me cry, but I still read them. I don't understand why I willingly read something I know will make me sad, but I do. The Greeks created a word for my emotional glut: catharsis. Greek tragedy served, in part, to help people purge their emotions through being swept up in the tragic currents portrayed on stage. Maybe the paper is my Greek tragedy.

If I didn't read papers, I would have missed the story on the first page of the Sept. 22 edition of The New York Times. Next to a feature headlined, "Israel tells U.S. it will Retaliate if Iraq Attacks," there was a glorious story chronicling the discovery of learning by Afghani women. Now that their daughters are finally allowed to attend school, many women are staying in the classrooms with them. I was inspired by the stories of the blossoming of these women, forbidden learning under the Taliban, and reminded of my gratitude for the gift of being a woman in a free society. "Without knowledge, I am blind," one woman said. Another said, "To read is to see."

Now that's worth looking at.




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