I love books. Books are great for anyone to read, because they have a beginning, middle, and end. Besides that system of thought that has prevailed since the printing of books began back when it was only the clergy and aristocracy who could even read to begin with (those pretty pictures in your church windows…yeah, that comes from them having to use images to explain what was in the Bible during the Middle Ages because people couldn’t read; too expensive and a privilege, not a right), they provide an escape from whatever world you are in. Tired of watching movies? Sick of hearing about the plight of people or insipid governments? Hell, do you want to do something else besides play video games about…movies, the plight of people, insipid governments, and random shooters? Pick up a book. It’s great, because it helps you find your own voice in a rather roundabout way. It allows the reader to become a character, engrossed in an experience that takes you away from the harsh reality of a world that may not give a damn what you think to another place. And if that other place is hitting too close to home for you, unlike in the real world, you can close the book and pick up a different world.
That assault on that kind of control, that personal utopia and mental stimulation, began with Atari. Yes, I know Atari is something I should only know about from second-hand information (and, it is, thanks to my parents). That little Pong game, capturing all the excitement of 1D air-hockey/tennis, began a cultural change in the United States and around the world. Atari, Sega, Super Nintendo, PlayStation 1, Nintendo 64, Sega Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii and a whole host of other consoles and computer advances in between and now every household has at least 2 gaming systems, a rather large T.V. (if not 2 or sometimes even 3), 8438747320847082 computers, and some kind of iPad/touch screen/why-the-hell-do-I-need-this-if-I-have-a-laptop. And all of this exists really to satisfy a very basic human need: entertainment that has minimal brain activity and at times, serves the purpose of pure distraction. That need for minimal brain activity is a great need, we all have a need to just do nothing and become a breathing vegetable every now and then. But when that’s taking precedence over getting homework done, cleaning, getting sunshine (because your skin is getting translucent from staying indoors all day) or even basic functions like eating, sleeping, and pooping is when it gets a bit ridiculous. And don’t get me wrong, I love Fable III, the NCAA Football series, and I enjoy watching Halo and Call of Duty fests as much as the next person. What’s the difference? I enjoy Leo Tolstoy, Emily and Charlotte Bronte,Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, Edgar Allen Poe, well-written accounts of British history, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, hell really anything that’s got words on paper that’s more than an essay and written well in addition to those things.
And this is not to say that I’m better than anyone, because I certainly am not that. What I AM though is someone who doesn’t think the word “designated” written down once in a three page, double-spaced, MLA paper makes the entire paper too “wordy”. Nor am I confused by the proper use of words like addictive (adj.) vs. addicting (verb), prompting more question marks in red ink from a peer editor in an English class that is essentially designed to be about the same level as freshman English in high school. I’m sorry, bloody stupid girl who doesn’t know what “unmitigated” means and pretends she knows what it is by writing “Does this word go here?”, that I read and have learned the structure of the English language through books like “Pride and Prejudice”, “Of Human Bondage”, and “A Farewell to Arms” written by people whose intelligence I trust more than yours. I mean, come on, J.K. Rowling is a great author and I KNOW about 90% of my friends have read her books. And I know that my friends are the kind of people who can actually write a paper and not include chat room abominations or Ebonics. We just happen to make up 0.0001% of America, including the rest of you who are like us.
The scary part of this is that Borders is closing. That’s really frightening to me. I love Borders. They encompass stores in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore including Waldenbooks. Just so you kind of get the impact this would have in another field…it would be like Target or Staples or Sears closing internationally. There is ALWAYS a Waldenbooks or Borders at a mall in some kind of capacity. Back when the chain was founded in the 70’s, people would read regularly, with books in hand. The implications of a very large bookstore chain like this closing down is that, of course, not enough people are buying books. While a lot of this could be pointed to the e-Book movement with all those Kindles/Kindle-like products and the subsequent piracy of books (if it’s electronic, you can torrent it to death), I’m more than convinced that a bigger cause is that people just don’t read. Because, look at all of our popular movies, musicals, and other favorite medium. Harry Potter movies (based off of a series of books), Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies (based off of a book series), Wicked the New Musical (based off of a book), Phantom of the Opera (based off of a book), Dexter (based off of books), True Blood (based off of books), and I could go on like this, are being condensed so that we have the attention span to deal with them. If you have people sitting down at one time for more than 2 hours, they get bored now. They need explosions and really cool effects to keep them interested, and books depend on you to create those effects. I realize that this could go on in the inverse too, because imagination somewhat depends on you seeing camera angles and tricks that were possible, but the imagination to come up with them in the first place needed to happen.
We’re losing our cultural identity in a way, because that’s one less profession it seems that anyone is going to really make at least poverty levels of money. The last book series that REALLY generated a following that wasn’t about a group of British wizards that I can remember was Twilight (yuck), and the waters have been somewhat tepid since then. The American writer is going to suffer, because now, they’re competing against something that provides imagination for the viewer/gamer rather than allowing them to create. The loss of books is just another piece of culture that is dying: music is also suffering. Yes, nothing says music like “It’s FRIIIIIIIIIDAAAYYYYYYY” or hearing “Teach Me How to Dougie” for the 80 millionth time (it’s entertaining for the first 2 seconds of hearing it, and the beat is very catchy). This lack of attention span leaves very few artists able to actually be profound in their lyrics for the risk of the listener forgetting what the hook was. And remember when it wasn’t the need for a 1 second hook, but for a leitmotif and/or compositional style and technique (yes…the Rachmaninoffs, Beethovens, Mozarts, even Schoenbergs of the world) that could make a piece listenable? People still listen to classical music…but it’s almost damning to do so in a public setting (how many operas, orchestral/choral/wind band concerts, or solo recitals have you gone to in the past year, those of you who aren’t studying music?). And heaven forbid you read as well, because now you’re just a freak.
Mental stimulation is part of a cultural experience, and Borders closing is just another sign that the U.S. culture as well as others is beginning to allow this 571 year old tradition to fade into the same obscurity that classical music is in the average American life.