Alexandria Online


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

READ!

You want to read? Read. Now you can do it wherever you want with whatever you want-- on your phone, in braille, on a giant screen, with your email popping in the background and a movie playing, or on the thin, minimilist greyscales of the Kindle.

There's no excuse not to read now. But it gets harder and harder to sit down and do it. Partly because that is what people do all day. They read email and documents. Then they go home and read facebook and blogs. They read their phones more than they use them to talk.

This all sounds wonderful. More reading than ever. But it's very twitchy reading. Look at the length of my sentences. Very. Short. One gets used to this from reading lots of email every day, and then one finds difficulty slowing down the mind -- and the eyes -- and perhaps even one's breathing -- to take in highly subordinated, complex, subtly nuanced articulations of ideas that may require a pause at the end of line to digest the clauses and savor the full implications of an idea, following its ramifications through the branching paths of validity or deceit.

Now that's the kind of sentence I like. Perhaps because I am a classicist, I have learned to treat different kinds of reading very differently. However quickly we classicists choose to read in our native tongues, we all read Latin and Greek extremely slowly. We can stare at a single Greek verb for minutes, take a few more to consult the lexicon, check the commentary to see if there is a note, and maybe even crack open a grammar book for backup. We know we have to change gears.

My wife, with a Ph.D in English, was accustomed to a narrower range, from Derrida (slow), to modern fiction (medium) to memoires (fast.) Email changed that by adding a new speed to her gear-box: twitchily fast. This summer it has taken her several weeks to change not only the pace but the depth of her reading so that it is slower, closer and more thoughtful.

Amazon has announced that it will again lower the price of the Kindle. And there will be no "improvements" except that it is even smaller and lighter. It costs a lot less than an iPad and it is a lot less than an iPad. This device is for people who want to sit still, breath slowly, and read without twitching. I'm hoping Amazon will still fulfill my prediction two posts back of making it free, perhaps with some sort of contract to buy a certain number of books within two years or such-like. People might even stop saying "Kindle" and start saying "book." We don't say "bound paper book" we say "book;" we don't say "cell phone" much any more, we just say "phone."

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