The Reading Life: Lifestyle or cultural pursuit?

If you had to pick just one, would you call reading a lifestyle or a cultural pursuit?This week, I’ve been mulling over whether reading is primarily a lifestyle or primarily a cultural pursuit. Writing that sentence annoyed me. Because why must it be either/or? These false binaries are, irritatingly, everywhere.

However, for the sake of filing newspaper stories, practical decisions have to be made. Does a story on, for example, hot new releases belong under the heading “Culture” or “Lifestyle”? How about coverage of an author event? What about an essay about rereading a classic, or the latest literary fiction, or a juicy new murder mystery that will keep you up too late, rendering you sleep-deprived and grumpy at work the next day?

The issue has been on my mind since last week, when I finally broke down and read Alexander McCall Smith’s The Revolving Door of Life, book 10 in the 44 Scotland Street series. For anyone keeping track, it came out in February, and it’s now September.


(Yes, I do realize February to September is not 12 years of waiting at all. Does it count if it felt like 12 years? No? I didn’t think so. Well anyway, that’s not what I’m here to talk about today.)

I’ve known since the first book that the series began as a serial in The Scotsman. Ten books later, it finally occurred to me to check out the site. And that’s when I stumbled on the visual that launched today’s line of questioning (click on images to see them at full size):

Reading is both lifestyle and culture, according to The Scotsman

You’ll notice books are filed under “Lifestyle.” Interestingly, “culture” is also a subset of “Lifestyle.” And just like that, a Scottish person (or persons – perhaps a collaboration happened?) eliminates the binary.

Meanwhile, over at The New York Times, Boston Globe, Telegraph, and Guardian

For the New York Times, lifestyle and culture are two separate pursuits.

Lifestyle and Arts are separated at The Boston Globe's website.

The Telegraph has a Lifestyle section and a Culture section.

The Guardian UK offers a culture section and a lifestyle section.

Each site has its own language. The UK papers prefer “culture” while the US papers tend to use “arts.” But that doesn’t change the core question: Why aren’t books, and other arts, considered a “lifestyle”? Why are fashion, travel, and food lifestyles but not reading? At least as far as our leading news outlets are concerned. Anyone reading a post on a books blog will likely already believe that reading is a lifestyle.

But here are the more interesting questions: What happens if society-at-large classifies reading and books as a lifestyle concern rather than as a cultural pursuit? In what ways might that change how we approach books and talk about our reading lives? I shall go off to ruminate on this. In the meanwhile, please let me know your thoughts in the comments!

2 Replies to “The Reading Life: Lifestyle or cultural pursuit?”

  1. This is really interesting. I never really thought about that classification of reading as “culture” or “art” rather than a lifestyle. For me, I guess the things that are considered “lifestyle” activities are maybe more active or site-specific? Like, one of the best things about reading is that you can do it just about anywhere. But if you want to seek out a particular kind of food, a place, or a museum or gallery, you have to get up and go there and be in that place, doing that thing. But I guess that doesn’t really make those things “lifestyles” either, per se – I mean, you could only occasionally do them, so that’s not the way you live… Whoa. Thanks once more for something to think about!

    1. Thanks, Alysa! Your responses always push me to think more deeply. What you say about lifestyle makes sense to me. Still, there are things like books exhibits (I saw an awesome one on the Brontes at the Morgan Library last Friday) and author talks that are also things you go out to do vs. reading itself. The more I think about it, the more troublesome I find separating culture/arts and lifestyle. I don’t know. I have to think about it more.

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