The case for the book

I've just finished listening to a fantastic 'start the week' on Radio 4, which featured (amongst other guests) a discussion with Jonathan Franzen. In it there is the most wonderfully succinct yet powerful argument for the book I've heard (it's near the end of the show - Frantzen was held up by the tube strike). Marr and Frantzen are actually referring to the 'case for the novel', but the idea of reading as a haven against the 'thousand tiny distractions' of everyday life is a powerful one.

I've often felt that books provide time and space, within which we can think, learn, etc. It also chimes nicely with some of the thinking behind the 'slow food' and 'slow travel' movement (and incidentally "time to read" makes a nice counterpoint to the - let's face it - awful 'bookaholicism' initiative that surfaced last year within the wider book trade).

And I think reading off of an electronic device doesn't count. You use a different part of your brain to read from a device, and (as someone who endeavoured to carry a conversation with a young woman last week who wouldn't - or couldn't - leave her mobile phone alone that whole time we talked) whichever eReader triumphs in the upcoming 'format war' will include plenty of bells, whistles, linking, ebedded push-technology and other ad-based interruptions to constantly draw your attention away from any long-term concentration and deep thought. Rather than kill the book, I think this kind of tech-driven attention deficit disorder may drive more people back to paper, as a sort of "leave-me-alone-I'm-reading" response to the 'Always-on-Friends-Reunited' that is Facebook.

I suppose this is why I'm fairly sanguine about the much-debated 'demise' of the book - I don't think the paper-based book is disappearing anytime soon, and we shouldn't let ourselves get too carried away by a technology very much coming off of the top of the Gartner hype curve. It's a great example of appropriate technology, although that doesn't mean it couldn't do with a bit of a helping hand now and then...


  1. Even the most hard core screen addict needs a break from the tyranny of the screen, for both health and sanity's sake in my view, and no matter how high the pixel count/resolution gets. We now hear that most peoples' eyesight is not actually good enough to enjoy 3D films! Not that I ever did anyway.
    The only real threat to the book in my view is that all our screen addiction is destroying our ability to concentrate. My own book-reading speed is snail slow, though I don't remember it being particularly fast even pre-internet.

  2. I have to say my own reading speed has increased dramatically since owning a bookshop...