Changing means and ways of reading



The importance of reading and the possible consequences arising from a radical change in the means and ways of reading

What follows was written in 2021 and published by Journal of USP in June of the same year. Since then, the educational situation, and in particular that of schools, has not changed. Except for the return to face-to-face teaching. It still seems to us that there is still a lack of actions that, in some way, decisively face the multiplicity of consequences that now mark the return to school. There remain individual initiatives and those of each school, expanding the isolation prior to the pandemic, observable when considering school networks. And still, being confronted by those who consider that the losses were not significant.

Certainly, the apparent relief of overcoming the pandemic is followed by the torments of the country's political and economic condition. The proximity of the elections, everything that cannot be defined, the injustices and social suffering that have been aggravated in recent years, the restlessness that is felt by all of us. We explained, at that moment, our concern about school life and the challenges for education in the pandemic and in what would come later. This “after” seems to have arrived, we think that it is necessary to insist vigorously on the preservation of the meanings of school life with the practices, forms of coexistence and relationships that are materialized in it. Even more so, as we said, for those who will depend on it to better relate to the world, recognize themselves in it and take care of it.

We present our idea of ​​the importance of reading and the possible consequences arising from the radical change in the means and ways of reading. From books to screens, for those who have them. But we weren't just talking about this relationship in general terms. We were thinking about the structuring function that reading books has on the possibilities of learning and organizing thought in all areas and more on the acquisitions that have the school as a starting point. We did not affirm the impossibility of these acquisitions being produced via screens, but we indicated our distrust that these could replace pedagogical relationships and everything that stems from the experiences constructed in school life. Anyway, we always thought of reading as a core activity of school learning, hence the urgency of turning our attention to it and keeping in mind its intimate articulation and dependence on fertile pedagogical relationships (attention to the other, bodily proximity and sharing the desire to know). .

The following text was written during the period when the effects of the pandemic were being felt intensely, causing social distancing and the suspension of face-to-face school activities. For this reason, his inquiries about reading and school life keep the impressions and notes made in that period. We believe that it is still necessary to discuss the relationships between reading and school life, since now the new school circumstances have become evident.

What would be the effects of reading on each person's life? With this breadth, the question becomes almost unanswerable. We can take a shortcut, try something, consider our existences today and come back to the question later. 2020/2021: we live in terror in anticipation of what is to come. Many have wondered about the effects of this time on our children, our students. How to make up for the lack of school life, precisely for those who must withdraw from it the possibilities of knowing and obtaining what will allow them to better inhabit the world and take care of it? What functions of reading can this distance from school life affect? As the way out seems difficult, it is advised to improve distance learning, to materially supply the lack of resources. Yes, but for that it will be necessary to improve distance contacts, a reinvention of pedagogical relationships that, we know, cannot be reduced to a technical improvement. It will certainly take more time than the children who are now experiencing the pandemic have.

Here we want to talk, once again, about reading and its effects on the production of meanings for reality and as a core activity of school learning. At other times we have already spoken about the constitution of “lived libraries”, according to the conditions of access to books that one has throughout life[I]. How are the ways of reading and relating to this action and the objects of decipherment formed? If not all of us become book lovers with our first experiences, at an early age or not, the fact is that we can all enjoy the pleasures that come from reading. May the school not contribute to creating obstacles on this path that opens up in childhood!

And later, much later, those of us who became teachers gained a lot from reflecting on our relationships with reading. How it all began? In most of our writings, we talk about these beginnings, it is necessary to talk about them so that we can appropriate part of the history that shaped our professional choice. A lot has been said about reading, by its lovers, by specialists in the most diverse human sciences, by those who teach it at different levels of schooling. Here we speak as university professors who train teachers.

If, many times, it is the presence of a family member that leads to the birth of a taste for books and other objects of written culture, in other cases, the absence of this mediation will leave initiation to the school, another instance or person. There are countless testimonials about it and of what we know there is enough to make us believe that the question about “how to get someone to develop a taste for reading?” integrates the group of those who, in order to be answered, benefit from the knowledge of training histories that exemplify and translate the immense variety of alternatives through which this taste can be strengthened. We can remember Maya Angelou who lived in unfavorable situations from a socioeconomic point of view, but experienced family and friendly situations that made opportunities to read proliferate and established a taste. From the pleasure of literary impressions shared with her brother to meeting a woman who listens to her, is attentive to her and presents her with books, elements infiltrate her story to build positive associations with reading and knowing.

Now, let's go back to the question at the beginning: What would be the effects of reading in each person's life? In addition to the difficulty of answering this question, there is another: the perception that we have, at different times, about our experiences. When we remake our personal stories, as so many have, we tend to remember wistfully or not the connection with the books. Well then, it is the relationship with reading that is at issue. It is worth asking about her: the product of privileged situations, happy encounters and more, “the love of beginnings” (using an expression from Pontalis), or even of what? Will we be able to learn more about the nature of such encounters? Or do we have to content ourselves with knowing that this is one of those mobile regions of the effects of experiences that constantly evade our pedagogical attempts to explain them and to try to favor their appearance based on school interventions?


Reading and the meaning of social/school knowledge

Far from determining an exhaustive rule about reading for each person, perhaps it is more fruitful to explore how this core activity of school life can also root broader social experiences. Even if a person fulfills their social duties, maintains family commitments and bonds of friendship, what “knots” could tie them to others, things and places? The search for such answers could lead us to an endless inquiry. We would not need to face such a task to assume that the answers would be elaborated through a considerable narrative effort so that each person, as a writer, could imagine himself as a character in front of unlimited small circumstances that would hastily have to be tied together to form a whole. plot – an idea of ​​“the whole” – that would attribute some meaning to this imagined and lived reality.

It is said that only human beings have this need to produce stories. Alberto Manguel (2017) states that we deal with our identities and the identities of the world as if they needed a literate decipherment that would assign meanings to what we find. For him, we live as if everything were part of a code that we would need to learn and understand. Understand to live and, only then, settle in the world. The problem therefore resides in how one can come to see and understand it.

Literate decipherment is, thus, a fertile metaphor for understanding oneself in the world, but it also evokes its inaccuracies or difficulties, because even if one wants to find the “is” of things, this approximation or the meanings of social knowledge has strength. metaphorical, working through analogies and networks of notions that surround the precise statement, expanding its meaning without reaching an unquestionable definition. All of us, literate or not, would be readers and, thus, would produce the amalgamation between life and experience. We can come back to that, but for now let's dwell more on this idea of ​​reading as an analogy for producing perceptions of oneself in the world. What does this job consist of?

First of all, friendship or enmity with books, with fiction, with electronic texts or with memes, connects us all – illiterate or literate, proficient readers or beginners, library moths or non-readers – by way of approaching the world we share. Since writing is imposed as one of the ways of organizing social bonds, reading, as decipherment, lends its characteristics to all of us as a tool to interpret reality, imposing itself through social institutions, discourses, memories, among others. (LAHIRE, 2018).

It is not an activity that only assumes the features of an intellectualized discovery. It is done in different ways, variable according to social groups and their particular appropriations. A person can tie it to an aesthetic experience in which literary formulations mirror social ways of relating to others and to oneself. Another may understand it pragmatically, constituting direct meanings for what happens to her. Thus, a woman talks about her marriage using the narrative structure of a sentimental novel or a young man seeks love advice in electronic texts, each one looking for elements to create their worlds. We could ask ourselves not only how a person settles in the world, but also, in that sense, how many worlds could be created. How many groups in our social organization could make literate deciphering an occasion for the elaboration of different fragments of reality? Or how many groups could do it from their own orality?

Finally, what is questioned are the limits of betting on the literary space as a meeting place and shared exchanges or negotiations. Roger Chartier (1999) points out that the expansion of publications boosted the yearning for the universal. The alterations that the advent of electronic media and their specific deciphering needs produced in the universe of written culture resulted in the revitalization of the bet on the possibility of access to the set of everything that was produced by human beings. However, the culture of the electronic text, as the author insists, is guided by the fragmentation generated by the effect of screens. Thus, even though we want to share the need to understand our world, the canvases we choose or those offered to us reinforce the shattering of the common experience of understanding and knowledge. We would experience the exacerbation of private reading, which would have less and less relationship with the idea of ​​sharing public debates. Considering the distance from school experienced by our students – necessary due to the pandemic – we can infer the centrality of these supports in their lives and in school life itself, possible in a remote situation.


Readings and absence from school life

in your book The reader as metaphor - the traveler, the tower and the moth (2017) A. Manguel highlights the figure of the book lover present in the tale The Bibliomaniac by Flaubert, written in 1837 when the author was sixteen years old. Today, perhaps it would be more appropriate to talk about the teenager who loves information quickly obtained from Google. The materiality of the book is lacking. One cannot, as in that case, speak of its smell and its shape, things that aroused the affection of the bibliomaniac. Let's leave everything to the screen and fingers.

Flaubert said that even with all this love “He [the bibliomaniac] could hardly read”. Let us quote Manguel: “The obsessive bibliomaniac is one of the most fatal incarnations of the bookworm who accumulates books without traveling through them, without reading them in studious seclusion, without truly making them his own. He is the hoarder of dead symbols, without the disposition or ability to breathe life into the book, since it is the breath of the reader (his incarnated reading, as Saint Augustine maintained) that gives life to the book.” (p.133) What are the possible impulses destined to vitalize the information that is waiting for us to, at best, pile up in us? What do children and young people need to acquire to transform this information into fruitful knowledge that guides experiences, relationships between people and care for the world? Good time to ask such questions.

Where will the murmurs come from? Certainly not from screens, certainly not from obedience to a set of rules collected by someone and presented as truths or good ways for us to know what to do. If we trust that life will provide these desires for imagination, thought and courage we are, in some way, renouncing what education has long been supposed to favor. Since when, historically, the concern with educating/forming is part of our reality, it is believed that it is desirable to go beyond the simple expectation that life will provide the best for each one. Perhaps, in order to better understand what is at stake in these ways of accessing information and the question of the meanings of knowledge, we need to ask several questions. Let us ask, for example, if the impulses that infuse meanings to information and fragments of explanations can be translated into narratives that infiltrate these elements, strengthening them.

The challenge seems to lie, therefore, in this experimentation with electronic time as an example of understanding the world. Roger Chartier insists: “… the way (sic) we imagine the future always depends on what we know; which makes [with] that, for us, the culture of the electronic text is necessarily a world of screens” (1999, p. 139). This universe of hyperlinks and fluid texts perhaps does not have enough strength for the different blows to animate internal and external lives with greater energy. Fragmentation as a value reinforces the pieces of understanding and the partiality of worlds. There is nothing more contrary to the idea of ​​training, whose vocation lies in trying to give meaning to the pieces of each one's life.

Ultimately, what is questioned are the limits of betting on the literary space as a place for meetings or negotiations. As Roger Chartier (1999) states, by sharing ideas and opinions conveyed in books, newspapers and magazines, it would be possible to participate in a broad debate, shared by all readers or listeners. Reading, therefore, would represent an activity of mediation between public and private spaces, either through listening to news or fictional narratives read aloud, or through solitary activity carried out at home, in the library or on public transport.

In addition, the teaching of gestures and practices associated with reading and writing participate in the individual elaboration of the schooling process. Therefore, the inaugural acts of schooling, such as picking up the notebook, placing the pencil on the first blank line, following the words piled up at the top of the page, seeing oneself alongside others and others in the same situation, writing and erasing, speaking in front of of colleagues, using dictionaries as well as an endless set of other actions found the school circumstances that symbolize the culture that is exposed at school and also the formative potential of this experience linked to the school space.

At the educational institution, students “… live and understand living in an original time and space” (BOURDIEU, p.48) in which the previously mentioned actions must gain the foreground. When speaking, therefore, of what the school can do, one must mention what it offers as a practical experience through exposure to an environment in which the careful design of the vowel “o” gains more relevance than other urgencies of everyday life.

If reading serves us as a metaphor for understanding reality, making us share the hope of attributing meaning to the world, the logic of the screens seems to undo the categories of knowledge and understanding that made the idea of ​​training and ways of educating possible, maybe the murmurs. Faced with changes in spaces, times and supports in which everyday actions appear to take place, education, ironically, seems to lose its strength. It would be the case of resuming the school as a meeting space in which education, understood as a process of incorporating modalities of knowing and producing the world, could value the means of construction of other narratives and opportunities. Futures collectively agreed between different understandings and individual experiences.

Finally, we would like to state: the breaths that would give energy to reading for those who most need it as an asset for social struggles and survival would come from sharing between subjects, in experiences in which the physical reality of our bodies is vital for access to multiple realities, that of solidarity, care, knowledge and the arts, for example. Let us then ask ourselves about the effects of reading and the lack of school life in these senses!

*Denice Barbara Catani is a professor at the Faculty of Education at USP.

* Patricia Aparecida do Amparo is a professor at the Faculty of Education at USP.



BOURDIEU, Pierre; PASSERON, Jean-Claude. The heirs: students and culture. Florianópolis: UFSC Publisher, 2014.

CHARTIER, Roger. The order of books: readers, authors and libraries in Europe between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries. Brasília: Editora UnB, 1999.

LAHIRE, Bernard. La raison scolaire: école et pratiques d'écriture, entre savoir et pouvoir. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2008.

MANGUEL, Alberto. The reader as a metaphor: the traveller, the tower and the moth. São Paulo: Editions Sesc São Paulo, 2017.



[I] We refer to the cycle of lectures “The formation of the personal library: remade effects”, which took place at FEUSP in 2019. In addition to the authors of this article, the event was organized by Profs. Drs. Ana Laura Godinho Lima (FEUSP); Juliana de Souza Silva (FEUSP); Katiene Nogueira da Silva (FEUSP); Renata Marcílio Cândido (UNIFESP), Prof. Dr. Vivian Batista da Silva (FEUSP) and Prof. doctor Roni Cleber Dias de Menezes. (FEUSP).


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