This feature by Michael Dirda called The Future of the Humanities: Reading is a balanced account of how, threats apart, reading is here to stay.
“Reading always seems to be in crisis. Two and half millennia ago, Socrates inveighed against the written word because it undermined memory and confused data with wisdom. When the codex—the bound book—appeared, some conservative Romans almost certainly went around complaining, ‘What was wrong with scrolls? They were good enough for Horace and Cicero.’ Gutenberg’s press gradually undercut the market for illuminated manuscripts. Aldus Manutius, inventor of the pocket-sized book, rendered huge folios a specialty item.”
Now the same crises arises for eBooks.
“Today, many people similarly bluster that digital books and our increasingly screen-based culture herald the end of serious reading. This is nonsense.”
And that’s the whole point. No matter how we read, books are here to stay. The virus of sharing actually helps sales and has given the book industry an empire’s worth. Dirda is not an unreasonable optimist. He shares the pitfalls of eBooks-suppose a Voldemortesque champion of censorship decided to use digitization as an excuse to infringe into the vocabulary of books and trim away whatever he does not deem fit?
Even worse, what if presentism, the belief that only now is correct, overtakes popular opinion, deeming everything ever done in the past as inconsequential:
“For centuries, antiquity might have been over-reverenced; now earlier eras are condescendingly patronized, smugly disdained as racist, imperialist, classist, sexist, and generally reprehensible. Such presentism is intellectually impoverishing, as well as generally bad for one’s character, and should be resisted. The timeworn adage remains at least partly true: We are but pygmies standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Now there’s a golden passage, if ever there was one.
The short story reared its head again in Words Unwired in The New York Times. It was just when “social media was held up as the new literary community, and the Kindle was king. Print, we heard again and again, was dead” that Lorin Stein and her colleagues decided to relaunch the Paris review. It was a bad time for anyone to deal with the short story.
“Short stories especially: Nobody actually wanted to read them. Nobody was learning how to write them. The savviest M.F.A. students were pouring their energies into fat historical novels — and their Facebook pages. When I told my sister I was quitting my job as a book editor to edit a magazine of stories and poems, she looked as if I’d said I was running away to join the circus: a tiny, doomed, irrelevant circus.”
This is an interesting article that led me to discover some wonderful writers like Otessa Moshfegh, and Stein is write to point out that the writing and reading are acts of public solitude that the social media can never match up to.
“To write a story also requires public solitude. You can’t be worrying how you sound. You can’t wonder whether you or your characters are likable or smart or interesting. You have to be inside the scene — the tactile world of tables and chairs and sunlight — attending to your characters, people who exist for you in nonvirtual reality. This takes weird brain chemistry. (A surprising number of novelists hear voice, and not metaphorically. They hear voice in their heads.) It also takes years of reading — solitary reading.”
I found this article in the din of social media though and that’s where I’m sharing it too. Guess there’s no getting away from the worldwide web.