Saturday, April 04, 2009

Drinking from the firehose

what's your reaction to something like this: http://tinyurl.com/cdt65g? Mine is to be somewhat overwhelmed. I'm not sure exactly why, but it doesn't make me want to rush off and read everything. And yet, I'm happy -- sort of -- that it's up there. I'd much rather think that I have access to all of that than that I don't. But I'm not any more inclined, once I know that it's there, to do much about it.

Now, if I had a research paper to write about 18th, 19th or early 20th century american poetry, I'd be off like a shot. I'd dive deep into that archive. But when I'm home, and wanting to curl up with a good read? Forgetting that the computer is hard to curl up with, I'd be overwhelmed by all the options. I don't think I could do it.

And this, I think, is the one thing that the book still has, solidly, over other media. The internet, and its various portals are excellent as a content delivery system. So they work flawlessly for reading that we do for "content" -- news, academic research, classifieds, etc. But that's not the only reason to read. Poetry and fiction are the least content-oriented forms of writing. They are entertainment in a certain sense, but more often I think we conceive of reading a book as an experience. We look to novels and poetry to provide us with a state of being, and that is tied directly to their artifact-ness. It's why so many people like to get books signed. Actually having the thing in your hand is a reminder of a particular experience. And the experience of reading one book is different than the experience of reading another book.

Content delivery portals like the Kindle or my Macbook, are fine for certain types of reading. But for experiential reading, the sense I get is of being overwhelmed. Reading a book still needs to be a unique, special experience. It needs to be a connection, and that can't happen without the object itself.

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