The Art of Reading… gone forever?
Like a museum holding dusty remnants of a time pre-digital age, the Carnegie Free Library stands on the busiest corner in South, High Street San Fernando. Long past are my secondary school days, tucked in the short and narrow aisles, where I devoured the words of classic novels and New World literature.
Here, my love for Caribbean writers like Colin Channer and Kwame Dawes was developed, a love that became an adventure to the coastline of Jamaica and the Calabash Festival. A love that became a bachelor’s degree in writing.
Mankind bustles past this 90-year-old relic, the youth unaware of what lies tucked behind heavy, wooden doors, the elders too attached to their Blackberrys to read past status messages, and venture inside.
In a time where we can communicate in 140 characters or less, those ‘plugged-in’ must regard books as a pastime only fit for housewives, the vacationing, or the unemployed. As the essentiality of Internet has increased over the last ten years, in parallel, our attention spans have grown shorter. Internet research has shown that most people do not even read an entire page, but scan headlines and bold print, gathering information piece by piece like breadcrumbs left in a hopeless trail in the classic Hansel and Gretel. I chuckle as I type that last sentence, doubtful that those born in the last fifteen years would even know the reference.
Too busy to curl up and live vicariously through characters who evoke a range of emotions with the turn of each page, people have bid farewell to neighbourhood libraries. Paperless is the new way, they say. All I see is the lost art of reading, the death of imagination.
The digital gods must have heard the common man’s cry for brain food because the Kindle was released a couple years ago. A bridge between the two worlds, it is the digital clone to the paperback; more evolved, but lacking the original’s genuine quality. The smell of the pages, the rustle as you hang in suspense page by page, the ‘dog ears’ like childhood scars reminding you of the memories of previous visits in these same pages. But this is about reading, right? Our kids and our kids’ kids will read. By Kindle. By computer. Byte by byte. But what will they miss? Isn’t there magic in the pages of a completed novel? The hard candy before the gum, checking publication dates, reading love notes to agents, publishers and most of all, patient partners celebrating bestseller lists before it even hit shelves. In the age of downloads we will lose the shelves.
There is magic in the pages of novels. The floors of the RIKs, the Ishmael & Khan’s, the Borders and Barnes & Nobles of the world are still considered sacred. Muses still live there, and for now, it is worthy to be preserved. The Art of Reading is hidden where humans today can’t be bothered to venture, but at least it isn’t lost.