…preferably a long one.
Dona posted a Facebook link to an article by Alan Jacobs in The Chronicle of Higher Education (see below) about \”long form\” reading and the quality of deep attention that fewer and fewer people are able to bring to a text:
Some people—many people—most people—will not experience that internal necessity of being in books, in texts. But for [some]people…books are the natural and inevitable and permanent means of being absorbed in something other than the self.
If there is anything–legal, cheap, not harmful, and for which you don\’t need another person–better than being in a book, I\’d like to hear about it. I learned to read before first grade, but my earliest memory of being in a book, of being carried off by the current of another mind, dates from the summer when I was eight and reading Kipling\’s Jungle Book. I sat enraptured in my grandparents\’ solarium, with the shades closed against the blazing midday sun, hoping that my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and the maids would sit down to eat lunch and not notice that I wasn\’t there.
My childhood was a long series of interruptions from Heidi, Mary Poppins, The Wind in the Willows, Tom Sawyer, Uncle Tom\’s Cabin (all in Spanish translation, since I read them long before I learned English). \”Put down your book and take a walk/take a nap/write a letter/practice the violin/go to school…\” I would surface like a diver, blinking at the light. After a minute or two getting oriented to the world of tables and chairs and well-intentioned adults, I would put down the book and do whatever was required, inwardly counting the minutes until I could take the next dive.
Things haven\’t changed much since then. Falling into a book in the evening is still my preferred reward for a day well lived or simply endured. And I like my books to be long ones, so that I can swim at leisure among the reefs and trenches of another mind. The brief dips offered by magazines (including the updated New Yorker), not to mention the medium I\’m using right now, just aren\’t as satisfying.
Sometimes I wonder if my addiction to reading isn\’t equivalent to a TV addiction. After all, not every book I read is a masterpiece, and there are sometimes masterpieces on television. Still, given the choice between a book and a TV program, I\’ll pick the book. I suspect that a major reason may be that when I read I\’m in control. I decide when to speed up and when to slow down, when to stop and take a second look. With a book, I\’m the driver; when I watch TV, I\’m on a tour bus, and tours have never been my thing.
Do you like your books short or long? How do reading and watching TV compare for you?