With my librarian cousin’s recent visit, I’ve been reminded of the disappointing status of reading in my generation. She reads so much that we made a stop at the bookstore before her flight home – which as far as I can tell, is very unusual for Americans my age. The modern computer and especially the internet, have essentially developed within my lifetime. We’ve seen the rise of everything from Facebook to 4chan; chatrooms, World of Warcraft, Photoshop, email and much more have revolutionized communication and entertainment in the past few decades.
We’ve also seen the development of the Kindle, or as I like to think of it, the PADD from Star Trek. A guy I know in print media has one, and mention of the device usually brings up the question of “are printed books on their last legs, soon to be replaced by electronic ones?”
I grew up with a mini reference library at hand to the dinner table, and in a house with bookshelves in most rooms, some of the tomes quite old – you know, the ones with the leathery covers and yellowed paper. The ones that make you feel classy just having them in your house. It’s hard for me to imagine living somewhere without books like that, so I was glad when my family gave me the fancy collector copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in time for college. They’re just as Sam describes, “put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards.”
There’s a certain magic in reading aloud at the fireside, after the sun has gone down and you feel like people out of a story yourselves. The feel of books is irreplaceable, and if we were to move beyond them I think it would be a great loss for humanity. I find book design fascinating, although I’d probably never have the patience for making that level of detail. A more practical thing we will have lost is the stability of the printed word – would you really want your newspaper replaced by a series of ever-editable newsblog entries, or your references “corrected” with changing times? Maybe printed media are a little like the gold standard, keeping us honest.
My cousin’s appetite for reading is impressive compared with most of my friends, many of whom either “don’t have time” for it, or simply don’t like books. No moving pictures, no song and dance to keep their eyeballs glued to the page. My problem is mostly that I’m picky about what I read and don’t get new books much. Lately I’ve been reading Terry Pratchett books, since they’re cheap, generally entertaining and lighthearted (without being junk), and there are lots to choose from. I can talk about them with my friends who do read. I’m impressed with people from my parents’ generation or older, who read the entire newspaper, magazines, nonfiction books, and classic novels. I have to wonder “how do they get anything else done?” – but that’s just the internet generation talking.
Edit: Cute video from Ms. Harris’s blog on this subject!