Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, February 27, 2009

I'm counting you out

I love the book2 site, but this idea? — not so much. Not at all. In fact, I hate the very notion. I can't imagine too many things more inimical to genuine reading than obsessively tracking the number of pages you read.

bkkeepr — I’ll sure be glad when the people who name applications rmmbr whr d vwls r n thr kybrds — is bad in three ways.

First, it takes attention away from the experience of reading and towards the mere fact of having read.

Second, it renders the mere fact of having read in quantitative terms — the emphasis is on getting from page 1 to page 220, not on paying attention to what happens on any given page. If your eyes are scanning the lines, then it doesn't matter whether your brain engages with any of the words.

And third, it diverts the reader’s attention from whatever he or she is reading to his or her own (supposed) achievement as a high-volume reader.

Reading a book shouldn't be like putting in X number of minutes on an elliptical trainer. It shouldn't be a form of what C. S. Lewis called “ethical hygiene.” Read what you like and stop with the counting already. As Randall Jarrell used to say: “Read at whim!”

the return of the repressed

Yes, I tried to forget about Text Patterns — tried to pretend it had never happened, tried to move on to "fresh fields and pastures new," as the poet once wrote. But darn it, this thing is in my blood! And when the good folks at The New Atlantis agreed to host my meditations, I couldn't forego the opportunity.

So in the coming days, look for posts on the ever-more-serious conversation about the e-book (prompted by the second edition Kindle, among other things), different forms of connectivity, whether books should be invisible, the present and future of libraries, technologies of the humanities, and assorted related stuff. I'm looking forward to it and I hope some of you are too.