FOR some time now I have had an idea, perhaps a bit zany-sounding, but no more so, I believe, than some of our other cultural conventions. I would like to become a reader-in-residence at a university, preferably in a bucolic setting. Not a writer-in-residence, mind you. There are too many of them, mostly associated with university master's writing programs. The competition for a position as writer-in-residence is fierce. But how many writing programs or universities have a reader-in-residence? None that I know of. For all I know, I may have invented the concept. After all, if writers are an important part of our academic arena, readers must be as important, for what good is a writer without a reader? If there is no one to read what is written, the writer might just as well never put ink to paper. Unless, of course, like Stendhal, he is writing not for today, but for tomorrow.
Once a reader-in-residence is hired by a university, he would immediately begin to read all the books that are generally considered significant literature, skipping those he has already read. His reading would not be limited by the constraints of any given academic discipline. He could range far and wide without regard to country of origin, subject matter, genre, or time period. The reader-in-residence would, of course, have a library stack pass so he could fetch his own books, which in addition to saving time, would have the added advantage of serendipity. While searching for the books he wants, he would no doubt stumble across other worthy books that have been neglected or forgotten or somehow left off the lists of desirable reading.
The reader-in-residence would thus find golden nuggets among the thousands, and sometimes millions, of books sitting in the depths of the university library. Having read them, he would then inform the students of his finds, to send them down new avenues of scholarly pursuit. While the writer-in-residence usually follows the traditionally prescribed path of assignments, the reader-in-residence's contribution to the writing seminars would be to alert students to all the literature that has been ignored and considered irrelevant to the pursuit of a writing career.
The position of reader-in-residence would give a new dignity to the activity of reading. It would raise reading to a professional level, comparable to any other academic career. Above all, it would give all of us serious, career-minded readers a means of earning a living.