I used to read all the time: seriously, all the time. There was always a book in my rucksack, or under my pillow, or in my hand as I walked, somehow dodging lampposts and pedestrians. I read fiction and non-fiction, following my interests at any given time, and it was glorious.
For me it wasn’t the use of language or the intricacies of plotting and narrative that attracted me to books, it was the ideas. I’m a big geek, so of course I compiled too-big spreadsheets trying to track the whole of human history, just because I read a book that explored what was happening in China and South America while Jesus was being born.
That spreadsheet was part of the problem, I guess, because if I’d spent less time on that and more time on, you know, reading even more, because then I might have sooner developed the wisdom to realise that it’s pretty much impossible to confine the entirety of human experience in an Excel workbook. Books make the world a bigger, busier place, harder to pin down and explain and commodify. They raise questions and send you running down unexplored lanes just to see what’s there; they make you look at one thing and see something else entirely, its atoms and its history.
Now, you can argue that TV and the Internet serve a similar purpose, and that’s true to an extent, but the user experience often lacks breadth or depth; they increasingly provide stuff based on what we like rather than their neighbours on the shelf. With the rise of an experience targeted specifically at an individual, the Internet increasingly becomes domestic, leaving a battered second hand bookstore looking like a Wild West frontier town. I remember when it was the other way round.
I still read now, of course – blogs and articles and reports for work, but I’ve been infected by the tl;dr bug. “Too long, didn’t read” – I’d blame it on the Internet, but really the only excuse is laziness. I miss reading, and fundamentally there’s nothing stopping me doing more of it; I live in a country with free access to Kindles and libraries and the few high street bookstores that haven’t been replaced by pay-day loan companies.
Maybe that’s the biggest threat to books in the digital age – people like me who don’t read them enough while blogging about the importance of reading.
I really need to put together a reading list…