Career Calling

March 4, 2012

Sabbath, March 4, 2012

Filed under: Sabbath — claycerny @ 7:16 pm
Tags: , , ,

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday features that ponders aspects of life and work.]

Learning to Read Books – Again

I can’t remember not having a book in my hands.  From children’s picture books to comic books to novels, poetry, and history, I’ve always been a reader.  Recently, however, I noticed something about myself: I couldn’t remember the last time that I had read a book that didn’t deal with my business.  That scared me. 

What changed in my life?  In a word: Internet.  We read online materials differently. We skim, look at headlines, and bookmark.  We have access to more reading material than ever before, and often spend less time reading.  Video has made the problem worse.  Many of the online sources I “read” every day offer clips that let me skip the text.  Why should I read what Jon Stewart said if I can laugh at his interactions with a guest?

A book asks more of its reader, who has to stay focused for a longer period of time.  It also offers the benefit of exploring ideas or developing a narrative in greater detail or complexity.  We all know the titles of great books, fiction and non-fiction.  Shorter types of writing (excepting poetry) do not have the same impact.  Most readers can name the titles books that influenced them.  They are less likely to remember the titles of a short story or essay.

Reading a book requires a commitment of time, focus, and energy.  It forces the reader to remember names, sequences of events, and the foundation of arguments.  To give one example, I recently read a book entitled Walking with the Comrades by Arundati Roy.  I had read online posts, some by Roy, about the dislocation of rural people in India.  I understood the problem.  However, after reading her book, I was more aware the people involved in the dispute, how they lived, and how they’re forced removal would impactIndia and the world.  It’s simple: A writer can do more in a book than she can in a 500 word blog post.  The challenge I’ve given myself is to make the time for both the internet and books (print and digital).

In his essay “Of Studies,” the great English thinker and writer Francis Bacon wrote: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”  Too often, at least in my experience, the book is left on the shelf, going to waste like a banana that’s turning black.  Reading a book in the Internet Age is too intimidating.  The other options are easier and often more fun.  That said, I’m trying to teach myself to read books again.  I’m also trying to lose weight.  “The best laid plans of mice and men. . .”

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