A writer and editor admits he has given up good books in favor of the Internet. Have you?
P. David Hornik, an American writer living in Israel, confesses that the Internet age does interfere with reading classical literature. His bookshelf fell down and he never got around to sorting the mess out:
These days, of course, I have trouble even getting to the sort of books — on Israeli and Middle Eastern politics and history — I see as a necessary nurturer for what I’m writing. A bewildering profusion of news and commentary comes out on the internet every day; I have to decide what not to read. Even late at night — when once I might have borne down on some gems by Frost, Dickinson, Wordsworth — I tend instead to hang around on Facebook, or browse YouTube with a glass of something day-ending and universe-justifying in hand.
And the books, the old ones, surround me with their silence. I don’t keep up with the world literary scene; but I understand that the book market in general is drooping, and don’t get the sense that literature plays a huge part in people’s lives. And that desultory heap is still there in the corner of the room, unresolved and, I fear, all too symbolic.Yes it is. It is a convincing demonstration of the tyranny of the urgent.
What makes new media so absorbing isn’t their significance but their urgency—the very latest piece of news, not the piece of news that will make the most difference.
The piece of news that makes the most difference to us might be twenty-five or fifty years old—sealed birth records, for example—but we did not know it before. Or five hundred years old—the discovery that a historical event happened quite differently from current conventional accounts. Yet we risk spending our lives discovering immediacies such as that our friend Katy is now friends with Harry and that cousin Jane is shocked by the latest increase in the price of gas.
The worst part of giving up classic literature without a struggle is that we may become blind and deaf to what we are losing long before we have definitely lost it.
Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.