On reading

On Reading

The collision of the book and digital reading

The internet has not impacted upon my reading habits in the slightest. I still pass my eyes from left to right across the lines of text, just as I always have. I still read line by line, turn from page to page; just as I always have. I still pick and chose. I still seek inspiring texts (to read). The internet has no impact on my reading habits, but the book says the internet is ambitious, and the book is honourable. The book fears there will be worse come in its place, that will lay waste to its carefully nurtured kingdom of readers and writers.

Books are my friends, faithful and just; they line up in my study like soldiers. They look down on the interloping screens from their posts on the battlements high on the walls.

But the internet has brought many recruits to my library. They wing their way through the air, land on my doorstep with a thud. They stomp into my library on their heavy spines. These new recruits come directly to me, having not rested anywhere along the way, recommended to me by the new bastions of taste and literary wonder.

These new books, while honourable, make the other books nervous. What is their provenance? Are they honourable books? Or are they tainted, by the ambition of the internet; coming as they do, from behind enemy lines?

The internet has not impacted upon our reading habits. The internet is the readers’ friend. The internet beguiles us with its instant content, its connections, and its booksellers. It connects us to dizzying circular, worlds of words. It spins us in the whirlpools of other people’s words and in their deepest whirling secrets.

The internet disrupts my books with its talk of not coming to steal away our hearts. It is plain and blunt, but what worlds of promise the internet contains! What magical devices purvey its wealth! How it knows what we seek before we know we are seeking. How it delivers to us the shock of a new regime and a new empire of reading and writing.

The papers, ephemeral cousins of my library citizens, are spread out all over the bed, ignored. Steaming tea is by the elbow. The reader caresses the screen, gently enticing it to show new writing. While reading, an email alerts signals a capsule is waiting – 250 well crafted words of fiction are ready. Down they go.

Left to right. Line by line. The screen, pliable as paper, can show us fiction, news, writing by amateurs, writing of our own, writing of the past. New words appear as magic, with a casual swipe of the hand. The papers flutter in the breeze and a review catches the reader’s eye.

Another new book? Better download it. Ah beautiful words, you appear. So enjoyable are these words, an artifact is required to contain them. A hardback is ordered. Beautiful hardbacks with their well-loved images, their much fingered cloaks, they occupy part of the study’s fortification of relics. Carefully they watch and observe the seduction of the reader by the ambitious internet from their places high on the walls.

Of course, the noble internet has not changed our reading habits. It seeks not to take the crown, therefore I am certain it is not ambitious.

We all still love books. We all still read. We all still carry the paperback in our bags. See, there it is, nestled next to the neoprene covers that protect the shiny screens. The truth leaks slowly. Avid supporters of the honourable book take screens on their travels; for economy, of course. To remain connected, of course. For their ease, of course. So they don’t run out of words to read, of course.

Then the magazines. Glossy and full of mesmerising images, they come to us now with a ping, not from the letter box. And still we profess our allegiance to the book. We boast of our orderly stiff-backed rows of honourable books; surveying the scene from above.

In the library, 15 inch screens hum, row upon row upon row. Access to everything written in the world. Ever. The little kids find their favourites in a few clicks. The students sit and write, bathed in the virtual world, the invisible networks like spider webs woven around them. The old people make notes, on envelope backs about their past to give to their children.

See here inside its glass box, protected by argon, the mantle of the book, its heavy dust jacket, rent across the spine just there. And see here, see the title page torn pierced by the stylus of envy. Oh how the words must have flowed out through that gaping tear.

What a fall was there, my friends! Then I, and you, and all of us turned aside while fickle and full of ingratitude, the readers abandon their collections. The book, betrayed by its readers. Not enough room, too heavy, too dusty. They rise in the throng; in praise of the screen. Bring the screen with triumph home into their house. At their hand. You all did love the noble book, once.

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.


Footnote: I entered this piece in the competition to be one of the Meanland online journal bloggers. I didn’t win. Sob. It was such fun to write though.