We are all conned into an assumption that faster/bigger/more is better. Such is modern life. Everything that doesn’t accelerate, declines. I’ve been mulling over for years why it is that I know that companies have to expand or they’ll die. Die? Can’t they just exist? Who made us all accept that bigger is beautiful? I do really believe that publishing as a business aspires to the stasis model: continual expansion is just not compatible with quality book publishing. Where is E. F. Schumacher when we (still) need him?

So with reading. There’s so much bumff out there telling us that we have to read faster to keep up with what’s being published. Who are you kidding? Keep up? You’ve never been able to keep up: too much is published any one minute for anyone to read one millionth of it. And so what? You read what you read, and maybe you should read it to enjoy it, not to add another notch to your reading pistol-butt. Here from Ink, Bits, & Pixels is news of a club in Wellington, New Zealand: “Once a week, members of a Wellington, New Zealand, book club arrive at a cafe, grab a drink and shut off their cellphones. Then they sink into cozy chairs and read in silence for an hour.  The point of the club isn’t to talk about literature, but to get away from pinging electronic devices and read, uninterrupted. The group calls itself the Slow Reading Club, and it is at the forefront of a movement populated by frazzled book lovers who miss old-school reading.” That’s all fine of course, but are there really people who a) want to do this, and b) can’t do this unless they get this sort of help? I can see there would be all sorts of people who just wouldn’t want to spend an hour reading a book — we all know way too many of them. But of those who do, I just cannot believe that the only way for them to achieve this is to turn up at that cafe. If a then not b. Of course I’ve no beef with them getting together: it’s a pleasant way to spend an hour; they just shouldn’t fall victim to the delusion that that’s the only way they can read.

And the idea that authors should accommodate these imagined digitally-damaged minds by writing shorter pieces is equally nonsensical. Write short pieces by all means, but do it because what you are writing is best expressed within a few words, not because you have fooled yourself into thinking there’s nobody out there who can read more than 140 characters at a time or whatever it is these short-attention-span evangelists have persuaded themselves is the problem today. Ink, Bits, & Pixels, unsurprisingly has a sensible take on this too.

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