Wednesday, April 18, 2012

It took me years to write, will you take a look?

Ever since the dawn of the Railway Age there’s been someone telling us we’re all going too fast. The notion of Slow Food made some kind of sense; it’s healthier and more pleasurable to invest time and attention in preparing and eating food. But I’m a little bit uneasy about the notion of Slow Books that’s currently enjoying its moment in the sun, and not just because I remember when I was at school the term “slow reader” being used as a euphemism for a general state of intellectual inadequacy. The core idea – that people should aim to devote 30 minutes of the day to reading – is perfectly sound. The problem is that to the Slow Bookers, just reading is not good enough. No, you have to read “works that took some time to write and will take some time to read, but will also stay with us longer than anything else”. I’m all for a certain level of literary discrimination, but I’m not sure that a work’s aesthetic value should be measured in terms of the hours that went into its creation. And certainly not the hours it takes to read them, which would mean that some brick-like fantasy effort involving sword-wielding übermenschen and bosomy elf queens is more worthwhile than a relatively slim volume such as Of Mice and Men or The Great Gatsby.

I’ve no doubt that the whole thing has been provoked by the advent of e-readers; summoning up a text on a dinky screen seems somehow less serious than turning over a mildewy page that’s been hiding between cracked leather for decades. But the same arguments were used against paperbacks; what matters is that the words are the same.

That said, the default screensavers on my Kindle all refer back to the good old days, with monochrome images of hot metal type, hard copy newspapers and fountain pens. Then there’s this little beauty, which turns an antique typewriter into a keyboard for your iPad, perfect for writing your next steampunk masterpiece. It seems that we need to hang on to the style of analogue, without jettisoning the functionality of digital.

And apropos of not much, apart from the fact that it’s about books and I read it on a Kindle, here’s Steve Hely, in the persona of his narrator Pete Tarslaw, from How I Became A Famous Novelist:
Ask yourself: of all the books available to literate people, what monster chooses the job of ‘telling people how bad different books are’? What twisted fetishist chooses such a life?... Nor do I cut book reviewers any slack for ‘advancing the arts’ or ‘calling good work to our attention’ or ‘keeping the culture of letters alive’. If a guy drove around your neighborhood with a bullhorn, pointing out which people were too fat, he would be advancing wellness, and calling fitness to our attention, and keeping public health alive. But you would hate him. You would throw rocks at him, as well you should.

6 comments:

Vicus Scurra said...

tl;dr

Richard said...

He got there first. But you were asking for that.

Martin said...

Oddly enough, I found my old school reports, whilst looking for something more important. My teacher noted that I was a slow reader. Oo-er!

Art said...

Hah, I love the quote. :0

Tim Footman said...

Vicus; Richard; consider me pwned.

Surely s/he was right, Martin, if it's taken you this long to read them.

Good, isn't it, Art? It's a funny book overall. I recommend it.

expat@large said...

My reading pattern these days: sit down in comfy chair > read for three minutes > fall asleep > wake up when book hits floor > repeat.

I'd review Hely's book, but you know how it is - I'm fat.