Monday, April 6, 2009

The Screen and The Book

OK, I admit that I could only skim this article about the "Vook", a new device that folds video and multi-media content into books, because it made me want to throw up. It's not that I'm opposed to the Kindle or electronic reading devices per se, I'm not. I'm nervous about them because it means more screen time and for me, at least, screens don't always invite the closest reading (see admission, skimming). But, I do object, vigorously, to the idea that books have to do more than offer themselves up to be read.

Sara Nelson, the former editor of Publisher's Weekly and now a publishing consultant is quoted as saying: “Publishers are going to be confronted with the idea that either the words on the page have to be completely compelling on their own, or they have to figure out a way to create new sorts of subliminal draws in the new medium.” You know what I say to Sara Nelson? No.

Should I even bother with all the things wrong with this? Words on a page can be compelling, they can be boring, they can be intriguing, they can be tedious, but it is not the job of the person who put them there to interpret what they are. A writer or an editor or a video producer cannot and should not control how her work is read or experienced. A reader or watcher or interacter does that all on his own. And as a reader, I'm grateful for the experience of reading, privately, at my own pace, and sharing as I wish. I mean, to me the long passages about Russian peasants in Anna Karenina are deadly boring. Would I want it gone? No. Ditto the politics in Middlemarch.

And Mr. Inman who's hard at work on the Vook says this: “I don’t think we are compromising the written word,” says Mr. Inman at Vook. “People will to continue to read, just in new ways. Books are finally coming online but they are very one-dimensional. I think we can experiment and do this better.”

Sure, books are one dimensional on the screen (or on a page for that matter), but not in your mind. There is nothing one dimensional about reading. I don't think I have to list it's joys here, but what the heck! Here are a few: There's the beautiful paragraph in a novel, or a heart-thumping response to a tightly argued article, or that feeling of being suspended all though perfectly taut short story. Those reading experiences come to us without make up, without special effects, without a catering truck involved in their production. They're fantastic and in a way humanizing in their demand that we imagine a connection to another person or world or perspective. They should be left to live independently, without subliminal messages or other dimensions added, thank you.


Anonymous said...

Ye gods. I totally agree with you. Especially that wonderful last paragraph.

Robin Aronson said...

Thanks! It's a little funny to complain about technology on a blog, but still -