For many of us who grew up before the days of television a book was an opportunity to step into another world. Books were entertainment, education, friends that never let one down.
Of course not everyone in that time shared my enthusiasm for reading. There were probably more readers then than now. But it would be wrong to infer everyone read just because there was no TV or other distraction. And those of us who like to read continued to do so even as opportunity for visual entertainment expanded.
As Ruskin so aptly phrased it, “No book is worth anything which is not worth much; nor is it serviceable, until it has been read, and re-read, and loved, and loved again; and marked, so that you can refer to the passages you want in it.” I’ve known books like that.
Film (which I love) and television have their value. But they’re a different style of entertainment/education and can’t replace reading for the true aficionado.
Unfortunately the visual trend and a faster lifestyle inevitably led to drastic changes in reading. People lost patience with lengthy books. They wanted everything in a hurry. We saw the adoption of speed-reading and condensed novels—a true travesty to my mind. If an author wanted us to skip words and passages wouldn’t he have written a shorter book?
Novels especially are not for speed-reading. They require attention, devotion to the beauty of words, even rare and unusual words, a willingness to accept the author’s eccentricities as a different way of looking at things. They were not meant to be fast food for the brain but a meal to be savored.
I don’t have a problem with electronic novels. I’ve even published some. They’re still books, even though they can never replace an actual tome held in the hand for the true believer.
But now I read this morning Simon & Schuster is teaming up with a multi-media partner to produce something called a “vook,” which intersperses videos with text—a nod to those incapable of visualizing. Has imagination truly been stifled to that extent?
I share the disdain of Walter Mosley, who said he would never allow videos to substitute for prose. “Reading is one of the few experiences we have outside of relationships in which our cognitive abilities grow,” Mosley said.