Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reading and Books

Here's an interesting op-ed from Sunday's Inquirer on "Reasons to Read." Problem is, the author, like many others, confuses the issue of reading with the issue of reading books. She starts by deriding the Kindle, then goes on to note how "the electronic world stole [her] patience to read books in recent years." When the author's 77-year-old mother convinces her that reading a book before bed would be more relaxing she asks her mother why "reading" is still important and the mother goes into a litany of reasons with which I would generally agree. But all of those reasons are reasons to read, not necessarily reasons to read words in books as opposed to on a device like a laptop or Kindle.

Doris Lessing similarly confused the two issues when she condemned the Internet in her Nobel acceptance speech. It also crops up in discussions on the efficacy of the bookstore model for selling books and sentimental attachments to the independent bookstore.

This issue of being wedded to print, especially in the form of books, but also journals, magazines and newspapers does not divide along age lines either. I know many Boomers who, like me, sing the praises of Internet publishing, while many younger writers lament the demise of print.

So far I have not purchased a Kindle. Not because I am morally or even aesthetically opposed to doing my reading on a modern device, but because, like the iPhone, I know the technology will improve along with the price, and, most likely, later devices will address even issues of hand-held comfort. Right now I still find a book the most comfortable reading device to use when I'm lying in bed, which is where I do most of my reading. Then again, just a year ago I couldn't imagine reading my daily newspaper on my laptop either. However, an erratic delivery schedule that had me skidding down our icy lane on cold winter mornings only to find the paper hadn't arrived yet, not to mention the reams of ads that duplicated what I found in my mailbox all week long, and the many sections, like classifieds and real estate I don't even read, finally caused me to seriously consider the switch. The last tether to my office was the cable and with Wifi I now peruse my laptop just as conveniently over my morning coffee, and manage to check out other papers as well if what is in my own doesn't interest me.

Up till now what I've discussed are merely matters of comfort and preference, but I have other issues with these folks who insist on holding a finger in the dam of online and electronic publishing. The problem I see is that those who decry the loss of interest in reading among the up-and-coming generation, shoot themselves in the foot by insisting that reading is synonymous with books. I don't have statistics, but it is my opinion that the draw of the newest electronic "gadget" is, in many ways, also a draw back to reading for many individuals both my age and younger.

Take literary journals. It is no secret that for the past couple of decades, even the best-known journals have been struggling to continue in print, while mainstays like The Atlantic and The New Yorker have drastically cut back on the fiction and poetry they publish. Yet online publications receive tens of thousands of visits per month. I don't have statistics to prove it, but going by my experience I would say that more people under 30 are reading short fiction and poetry online than have read the same in print in the last 20 years or so, and maybe more than ever before.

As with any major change, there will be lots of people who drag their feet, insisting that the old way is better, and as with any change there will be ways in which that is true. On the other hand, it may be time to realize that the days of book publishing, as we know it––that is, several pages between covers sitting on a shelf waiting to be purchased–– are nearly over. Just like the printing press provided a new a modern way to disseminate information to the masses, so the Internet and various hand-held devices may be what brings the masses back to an interest in reading.

So, on the issue of developing new technology, I recommend this video from uTube. A little tongue-in-cheek, but you get the point.


Kathryn Magendie said...

OMG - that video is halarious! :)

Nannette Croce said...

Everything was new once. I love that one too.

rhbee said...

I love the ending when the book is unable to be opened and at the beginning when I realized how similar I feel to this guy when I try to use a "help" desk.


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