Wednesday, August 10, 2011

B Is For Book

...preferably a long one.

Dona posted a Facebook link to an article by Alan Jacobs in The Chronicle of Higher Education (see below) about "long form" reading and the quality of deep attention that fewer and fewer people are able to bring to a text:
Some people—many people—most people—will not experience that internal necessity of being in books, in texts. But for [some]people...books are the natural and inevitable and permanent means of being absorbed in something other than the self.
If there is anything--legal, cheap, not harmful, and for which you don't need another person--better than being in a book, I'd like to hear about it.  I learned to read before first grade, but my earliest memory of being in a book, of being carried off by the current of another mind, dates from the summer when I was eight and reading Kipling's Jungle Book.  I sat enraptured in my grandparents' solarium, with the shades closed against the blazing midday sun, hoping that my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and the maids would sit down to eat lunch and not notice that I wasn't there. 

My childhood was a long series of interruptions from Heidi, Mary Poppins, The Wind in the Willows, Tom Sawyer, Uncle Tom's Cabin (all in Spanish translation, since I read them long before I learned English).  "Put down your book and take a walk/take a nap/write a letter/practice the violin/go to school..."  I would surface like a diver, blinking at the light.  After a minute or two getting oriented to the world of tables and chairs and well-intentioned adults, I would put down the book and do whatever was required, inwardly counting the minutes until I could take the next dive.

Things haven't changed much since then.  Falling into a book in the evening is still my preferred reward for a day well lived or simply endured.  And I like my books to be long ones, so that I can swim at leisure among the reefs and trenches of another mind.  The brief dips offered by magazines (including the updated New Yorker), not to mention the medium I'm using right now,  just aren't as satisfying.

Sometimes I wonder if my addiction to reading isn't equivalent to a TV addiction.  After all, not every book I read is a masterpiece,  and there are sometimes masterpieces on television.  Still, given the choice between a book and a TV program, I'll pick the book.  I suspect that a major reason may be that when I read I'm in control.  I decide when to speed up and when to slow down, when to stop and take a second look.  With a book, I'm the driver;  when I watch TV, I'm on a tour bus, and tours have never been my thing. 

Do you like your books short or long?  How do reading and watching TV compare for you?


7 comments :

  1. (Posting this for Cindy):

    I like a long book rich with descriptions about the place -- Thomas Hardy, especially. I like to feel the wind, and smell the wet coats of the sheep. And I like classical music combined with really old books, preferably with a chill in the air and a fire going. It connects me to people who lived a hundred years before I did. They may have read this book too. They may have heard this music too. Books, music, gorgeous old buildings and big thick trees tie us to people who also faced crises, raised families, worried about the oncoming storms.

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  2. I love books both short and long. I love being carried away. However, since becoming someone who has to read for a living, I tend to relax by finding good TV, which does cut into my reading time. Still, I must read for 10 minutes or so before going to sleep...ritual, ritual...

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  3. I talked to someone recently who confessed to a reading addiction. Even when in school, she gets in 3-4 hours of leisure reading per day. She feels bad because she's not reading "important" books. I get it--I've definitely used reading for escape. But what this blog brought to mind was those many, many mornings I made you late for teaching because I had gotten lost in a book and had forgotten to get dressed and ready for school. Or, was trying to get dressed while holding the book open on the floor with my foot. Sorry.

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  4. Alison, I remember those days well. Despite the aggravation of getting you to put down your book long enough to do anything, I got to relive those heady first years of reading from my own childhood.

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  5. As you may know, I'm mourning the loss of my love of reading. I used to be like you and lose myself in books for hours, but I find it so hard to do now -- too many distractions.

    The book I am reading (and enjoying) now is about that, in part. It was mentioned in the link I shared on Facebook and that you posted here. I didn't want to think it was the fault of my time on the Internet, but I do think it is.

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  6. Dona, surely this is just a phase? I find that, if anything, blogging and FB and so on have sharpened my desire for a good long book. The evenings are starting to close in now--I bet you'll be back to reading soon.

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