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Books: “Too Slow a Form of Information Delivery”

July 13th, 2007 · 2 Comments · Books, Culture, Education, History, Internet, Lit, Mythology, News

bookshelfScary quote of the week: In an article from the LA Times about the sad passing of another indie book store owned by a wonderful old eccentric — which is kind of like losing one of the last 12 rare rhinoceroses or something – anyway, toward the end of that article, we read this:

Dowdy is the kind of avuncular guy who clearly enjoys friendships with younger people. This was, ironically, part of what led him to get out of the business.

Last winter he went to a housewarming party for some neighbors who were about 30 years old and was amazed to see no printed or recorded matter of any kind. No books, no magazines or newspapers, no CDs.

Another time, a customer browsing in the shop told him he was not interested in books because “they’re too slow a form of information delivery.”

“People under 30 do not relate to books,” Dowdy said. “We’re in the middle of a generational shift. It’s not my world at 70. I can tell talking to them that they’re every bit as intelligent as any other generation, but their focus is different. These books are invisible to them.”

And I wonder if that’s just anecdotal or a real sea-change truth about the under-30s.

Look, I’m as wired as anyone. I blog, I iPod, I Wi-Fi.

But a world without books? Or more precisely, a world without people who read? I mean, thanks to all that melting ice up north I’m scared enough about the decades ahead, without the thought of being trapped on a planet full of people who never once had the experience of getting lost in a book.

And as for the “too slow a form of information delivery” guy — are there really people who think information is all you’re supposed to get from books? It kind of reminds me of Willy Wonka’s “three-course meal” chewing gum — that 1950’s-ish idea that it’s possible to compress an experience into a fraction of the time necessary to really appreciate and absorb it. Reader’s Digest “condensed” books, anyone?

Someone needs to gently break it to these people that the map is not the same thing as the territory, and looking at pictures of the world on Google Earth is not the same thing as actually going places.

And yes, I know that the sages of the East have told us that it’s possible to know all things without setting foot outside your door. But saying a thing is possible is not the same as saying that many people manage to accomplish it.

You know what? Sometimes when I’m reading a really good book — one that’s inspiring me and making me think — I deliberately slow myself down so I can spend longer thinking about it, ruminating inside the world of that particular book.

In college, after I read the first half of The Mists of Avalon, I put it aside for about three years so I could read a bunch of other Arthurian literature and Celtic mythology before I read the rest of it. I read T.H. White, Malory, Tennyson, The Mabinogion, Robert Graves, T.W. Rolleston, Yeats, Lady Gregory, AE, Lyra Celtica and The Golden Bough. (And listened to a lot of Waterboys, as I’ve noted previously.) It was one of the best times of my life. Discovering that doorway into the world of British, Welsh, and Irish legend was intellectually momentous enough for me that I wanted to amplify the experience rather than condense it.

I have to believe there are people under 30 who have found or will find that kind of doorway themselves, and understand what it’s like to live inside a book for a year or more of your life. I hope so. But maybe there won’t be enough of them to keep bookstores open.

Dowd’s last word on his closing store:

“After ’50s coffee shops closed, people put up things like Johnny Rockets,” Dowdy said. “I have a feeling that places like this will be re-created as an act of nostalgia — after we’re all gone.”

What a cheery notion.

Oh, the name of his book store? Other Times.

Not too pregnant with irony.

Go read the whole article — it’s worth it just for the story of how Mr. Dowd’s landlord saved his life.

(h/t Norm Sloan.)


2 Comments so far ↓

  • Aaron

    Thank God I don’t want to be friends with anyone under 30! :-)

    Sadly, most people today DO think of books in terms of “information delivery.” For diversion and amusement, they watch reality TV or engage in good 0ld-fashioned, mean-spirited calumny…

    (But I think the “too slow” guy was a pompous show-off, frankly…I’ve never heard anybody else say something so asinine…)

  • Jane

    Oh, sweetie, I wrote a few of the very same words today (http://lateatnightwhenthecat.blogspot.com), about living in a book, in books. What synchronicity, for want of a finer word — or maybe it’s just summer, where our days are different, whatever our schedule. I said just a bit about ONE book (Jamie O’Neill’s “At Swim, Two Boys”) and about living in it, living in fiction. And fas or choices for reading , delivery’s what it’s all about, anyway, isn’t it? “Literary” quality. The phrase “information delivery” begs the question. The message or the medium? I ask you!
    P.S. You would LOVE “At Swim…” if you haven’t already. Best thing I’ve read since “Lost Language of Cranes,” years ago. — JLH