Monday, July 28, 2008

The story beyond the book

Interesting article in yesterday's New York Times about literacy and online versus print reading or something. I don't know, I didn't really read it.

Ha! Yes I did, and I was going to write a cogent and logical response, edit it, and then post it here. Then I realized I could prove my own point by allowing this online medium to be less formal, less polished, and -- let's face it -- less "rich" than the printed word.

Not that there's not crap printed. We all know there is. And not that there's nothing good to read online, we all know there is.

But it got me thinking about the generation growing up with the Internet (and not only do I remember the existence of typewriters, I remember using one) and what they may think about books. As if "a generation" thinks about anything all the same way anyway. But never mind that: the wheels of argument are greased by generalization. Off we go.

One point the article made was that people who do all their "reading" online seem to be not reaching the full richness of story that's possible in print, whether by their short-attention grazing nature, the myriad of online distractions, or some other third thing.

Except books aren't quite perfect either, are they? The story that we as authors tell, and the story that a reader creates with us through the act of reading, that story isn't just ink on a page. It lives outside the book, just like feelings are outside of words or the rules of a game are outside a pack of cards. The words or the cards or the printed pages are just the tools we have for telling the story. Imperfect expressions of that story.

Now. I believe that printed books are the best way to get as close as possible to the story that floats out there between reader and writer. And there is something undeniably special about the act of reading from a printed page, whether it's the whispered scrape of a page turning, or the pause and renewal at the height of action when a chapter ends and the next begins, or the sheer weighty joy of a stack of new books denting your arm as you carry them over to your comfy chair.

There is something special about that that no other medium can match.

But if we accept that story -- meaning -- exists beyond its medium, then there must be other ways of expressing that meaning. Including, for example, online. OMG, right?

Point being, reading a book has its own intrinsic worth in and of the act of reading itself. But reading a book is not just an end in itself, it's also a means to a different end, a way to reach the story.

Maybe someday we'll look at this print-versus-online debate and laugh at how misguided it was. Or maybe we'll mark it as the beginning of a great divide in literacy and the imagination. Either way, there are stories to be told.

What do you think? (Keeping in mind the irony of reading this online instead of in print.)


Peter S. said...

There's been a lot of talk about the Kindle, and how it will "revolutionize" book-reading. Perhaps. Like how the Segway has revolutionized walking.

To me, the medium should be the most convenient to the audience and easily transcended. The medium shouldn't get in the way, so if you listen to books on tape while you walk, great! If you like "analog" paper books, great! Personally, I think paper books are pretty hard to beat for: price, weight, portability, battery life, recyclability, low-light reading, and availability. But I find myself in front of a computer much more often than in a chair with a book at hand, so reading on a computer monitor is my means. So why can't I find books to read online?

This makes me wonder whether a story can use its medium to advantage. Example: top-rate actors reading/performing books on tape.

Cristina said...

I like that new book smell which I just can't seem to get from the computer screen despite constantly scratching it.