Thursday, 20 September 2007

Drip-Feeds versus Wallows

Now here's a thing: The Book Standard has an article extolling the virtues of Daily Lit ( if you can bear to check it out), because 'even the busiest person can tackle a literary classic - in five minutes a day via email.'

This is yet another symptom of our time-poor nanosecond-attention-span society. Listen, if you're pushed for time, read a haiku. Some poor novelist has sweated blood creating the rhythm of clause, sentence, paragraph, chapter, overall plot. The language may have a lilt to it, a swing and flow that is individual to that writer and is the result of long practice. The pace of the story should have its own systole and diastole, lifting you, holding you, releasing you only to seize you again as you read. And you don't get that in a five minute soundbite.

You can tell I'm narked, can't you? I'm also puzzled. Whenever I and my friends talk about the joy of reading or reminisce about books we loved long ago, the books we've never forgotten, the books we revisit, we don't talk about that zippy little phrase on page 67 which grabbed us and made the whole thing worthwhile. Certainly, we may have favourite lines or memorable phrases we can recite - but when we talk of the love of a good book we use phrases like 'I was lost in it', 'I couldn't put it down', 'I was totally drawn into it' - and we sigh at the memory of the reluctant renunciation we felt when the book came to its end and we had to return to the 'real' world. Some books take a long time to cast their spell: it isn't an instant fix, a shallow 'affirmation' to be stuck on the fridge - it's a long wooing, a seduction of the reader through character and language and storyline.

One of the things I most regret about adult life is how difficult it is to have a damn good wallow in a book. On the rare occasions where I can read a book in a couple of bursts - or in one sitting - I sink into the book with joy and am fit to commit murder if disturbed. One of the irritations of trying to read in bed nowadays is how tired I am, how incapable of still being awake all the way to the last page at five a.m. when the birds are stirring and the light filters in. Nowadays, a page or two and I'm dozing - and the next night and the night after that find myself rereading the same two pages because I've forgotten what happened.

It's claimed that Daily Lit works because 'people really respond to the fact that it's according to their schedule.' Couldn't they fit their schedule to reading the book, according it the attention and respect it deserves? Is this what we've come to? I worry that my children bring home photocopied sheets from school all the time: they're being conditioned to see life in terms of 'best of', in terms of extracts and bleeding chunks, and thus never learn any staying power, never see what might be worthwhile in the 'slow bits', the less obviously grabby bits.

In the article, one reader says it's the method 'easiest for me to consume'. Consume? Consume?

One of the founders says 'It's a new format that hasn't yet been exploited and they're looking at this incremental revenue, similar to the book club format. It doesn't take away from or cannibalize the existing marketing. It's reading that wouldn't otherwise take place.' This is just sad. What have we come to, if we have to rely on Daily Lit, emails, and reading potted texts off the itty bitty screens of mobile phones to be the last bastions of reading custom.

Wake up, pick up a big fat read - and wallow!

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