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The Edge of the precipice: Why read literature in the digital age

A collection of essays edited by Paul Socken

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Why read what matters?

  • Jul 30, 2014
This slim fast-reading collection of essays tackles the title question from many perspectives along two main tangents.

  • The place of ink on paper reading vs pixels on screen
  • The place of long form prose (literature) vs. wikipedia sized blocks of text

Books have been losing ground for several years, as libraries stock ebooks and bookstores close doors.  I travel for work quite frequently and it is now clear that serious traveling readers all have an ereader, and it is only the occasional traveler who buys a disposable paperback to read on the plane.  I travel with my Nook HD as well and have read some books on it (Google's digitization project makes access to free classics attractive) but still much prefer paper-based reading.  But other than personal preference, is there some intrinsic benefit to ink on paper reading that makes it better and in fact essential for learning, for comprehension, for retention, and for development of critical perception, judgment, and thinking?  Is the solitary and disconnected nature of reading a book a nostalgic quirk, a restorative break from the online world, or do its benefits even exist at all?

The second tangent is perhaps the more serious--if we lose literature, do we lose some essential element of humanity, the skill of contemplation, of empathy, of thinking critically for oneself?  While my review is probably making this sound boorishly highbrow, the serious philosophy and literary criticism is lightened and enlivened with personal stories, common sense, and real world considerations. The essayists are from a range of countries (with a bit of a Canadian bias befitting the publisher's location) and careers, including literary professors, librarians, translators, and archivists.

Along the way I learned something about why I prefer books that I had not thought of or known about myself that is a common benefit of reading literature on paper-the writer has to finish before the reader can start the conversation that occurs in contemplation of the writer's words.  So this is why I tried carrying my Nook to church but found it not right.  It was the wrong format for the conversation between me and God that the Bible represents.  In some sections of my Bible I have written so many notes in and around the text that it almost over writes the original text.  Literature is a two-way internal conversation that is powerful, personal, and essential.

If you read as a hobby and an obsession this book will make you a better reader and thinker.  In my last review, I talked about a genre of writing and book publishing that has been thankfully and appropriately replaced by the search engines and 140-character creators of the world.  But literate writing on paper is a genre of writing and a reason for reading that will never be replaced or replaceable by GooglApple.

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About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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