The Reader

John Rentoul

0thereader 300x181 The ReaderAnother fine Errors & Omissions column by Guy Keleny in today’s Independent.* As a result of which “incredible” and “incredibly” as intensifiers have been added to The Banned List. I am also distraught to discover that “on a daily basis” is not already on the List. Numbers 56 and 57.

But Keleny’s mini-essay on how to address the reader is gem, to be reproduced in full (and slightly undermined by the use of a relevant photograph, right):

“If any of you can cite a more perfect irony than the one which made 7.59am on 6 December 2010 the most listened-to moment in British radio history since Edward VIII announced his abdication, I will send you a signed copy of the James Naughtie Lexicon of Modern Rhyming Slang by courier forthwith.”

That, shorn of two or three subordinate clauses, is the opening sentence of Matthew Norman’s Wednesday column. There is nothing about it that you could call wrong, but I still winced at the words “any of you”.

It is easy for writers to picture their readers as a big group of people, a sort of public meeting taking place on some plane of the imagination. Maybe some readers like to think of themselves as members of a cosy club, and certainly some publications play up to the idea by addressing their readers in the second person plural. But it is all a fiction. The “readers” may be many, but they never meet as a body or form a community. The lived experience is that of a single person, reading a book, a newspaper or a screen. I shall continue to think of you, dear reader, as the one person you actually are.

*Apart from the second item, which I do not understand.

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  • Ciaran Rehill

    It is an imagined community (read Anderson). This is how national identity emerges (read Broxted).

  • LancashireLad

    I imagine, with some incredulity, that I may be mistook for a reader; I’m not!

    I post here because I can (except sometimes when my words are removed). They are only words; but there again the relationship of reader, writer and censor is oft fraught with difficulty.

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