Monday, May 3, 2010

Don't Shy Away When the Bookbug Bites

So why read. It's a question that I've seen flung around time and again, and particularly--especially in the stodgy academic circles--this has become a question meant to test the resolve, the necessity, of the book.

There are simple answers to "Why read?," which include that the Internet--even with its bevy of webcomics (to which I'm admittedly addicted), YouTube (see comment the previous), and other visual media (Google image search!)--is nonetheless based on words, code, language, and all that stuff. We haven't got to what the Beat novelist William Burroughs had expected: a visual society. You can't think of an image of Big Ben and then have that appear in your image search or as a YouTube video. You have to type "Big Ben" in a search bar and strike enter. (Or click on the "Search" button, but who actually takes the time to drag the mouse point and click--with the notable exception of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail. But it was the '90s. They can be forgiven.)

Words, then, are everywhere, and we're flooded with them. And it's easy to get desensitized in this ocean of language, where things are minimized to quick factoids and reports. So the book...who wants to read after a long day of spending time with words, words, and more words? Why aren't we all singing in time with Eliza Doolittle: "Words, words, I'm sick of words!"?

There's something about books that remind us of what it is to be human. To share something. To connect. And all this talk of the book as just a repository for about as a medium for communicating? I recently came across this NYTimes interview with Charlaine Harris, the author of the book series ported into HBO's True Blood. And some of her answers to the interviewer's questions reminded me of precisely why we read books.

Books make issues personal and connect us to other people. Read the interview, and consider Harris's comments about the sexuality of her characters. Or think about the cult sensation that shows such as True Blood have become. And how these things create conversations. Friends watch the shows and then buy the books and read the books and all the while...they're talking.

So I can't understand why people try to defend the book as some repository of knowledge, some dusty tome that's dry and tedious and dreadfully, dreadfully dull and droll. Let's talk about something that Charlaine Harris apparently knows, that books--regardless of genre, regardless of how intricate or beautifully written--should first and foremost bring people together.

In the words of Stan Lee, "'Nuff said."


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