Stephen Henighan and the definition of reading

from Brian Palmu:

I love books. Though not a fetishist, I love their feel, heft, smell, unique configurations and colours, give and strength, font shock and internal typesetting flourish and quirk. Did I say sentimental? That’s my argument for books. Henighan’s more experientially precise, calling on the power of the book to submerge us in a world of uninterrupted imagination, ferried along by the linear play within the pages. But that’s the experiential ideal. In reality, most readers are not allowed the luxury of an uninterrupted book reading experience. We steal twenty noisy reading minutes on the bus ride to work; we’re the driver of the same bus, Bob Smith, who in an interview with questioner Grant Buday circa 2000, stole a minute or two of DeLillo or Dostoyevsky, for years, between long red lights; and we’re the person (me), reading about Bob Smith on the upper ferry deck, surrounded by crazed teenagers and zigzagging foot traffic. In contrast, when I read online, it’s often late at night. Alone and surrounded by quiet or (presently) the actual sound of non-proverbial crickets, I can sail along uninterrupted over great stretches of the written word, whether poem or essay, political argument or news article, blog post or comment stream. “But what about the long form, the novel?” Well, I admit I don’t have an eDevice yet, but if I can concentrate and even entertain creative responses to and from my late-night pixelated adventures, I don’t see the problem should the novel form, eventually, be housed in the electronic hive for the majority of its output. The glorious past, I’m afraid, is of no sentimental force here. Long, uninterrupted, imaginative depth: the reading experience of the typical Dickensian page-turner? Many of Dickens’ novels were first encountered in serialized form, and in newspapers alongside yesterday’s equivalent of baby bum powder and floor polish hortatory pitch. And I doubt that most readers a century and two score ago had the same leisure time as us. Snatching a chapter chunk here and there, they managed to get through the entry before the next week’s installment. Or am I painting a too-gloomy social supposition, the extreme of Henighan’s? Well, the truth’s probably somewhere in the middle, but I highly doubt that many of the non-John Jarndyce citizenry were jumping from one canon-provider to another at any time of day or night in timeless wonder.


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