New research continues to emphasize the importance of mind wandering for learning. It turns out that not paying attention is one of the best ways of discovering new ideas. Reading books, whether silently or aloud, remains one of the most efficient means of enabling such errant thinking. As our bodies rest, our minds begin to work in a different way. New connections, new pathways, and sharp turns are being made as we meander our way through the book, but also away from it. There is no way to tell if anyone is actually paying attention anymore as I read, including myself. This seems to be one of the great benefits of reading aloud, that you can think of something else while you do it. We may be holding the book together, but our minds are no doubt far apart by now. The fairy tale is the first story of childhood because it tells of such leaving behind (parents and home), of entering the dreamscape of the woods—and the mind. It tells of the crooked path of change. How can one know where reading books ends and dreaming in books begins?
The point of the new reading technologies, it often seems, is to avoid deep immersion, precisely because it’s an activity the crowd can’t influence or control and thus a violation of the iron rule of digital existence: Never be alone. Deep, private reading and thought have begun to feel subversive. A decade ago, the digital space was heralded for the endless opportunities it offered for individual expression. The question now is how truly individual — as in bold, original, unique — you can be if you never step back from the crowd. When we think and write from within our busyness, surrounded by countless other voices, too often the result is reactive, derivative, short-shelf-life stuff.
People of the book, such as I, not only believe that the replacement of the page by the screen will alter human character, thin it out, empty it of depth, but secretly hope this happens. A deterioration in human character consequent upon the demise of the book will be, for the inveterate reader, an apologia pro vita sua. For we who have spent so much of our lives with, and even for books secretly derived a sense of moral superiority from having done so. This is obvious from the fact that no one says “Young people nowadays do not read” in a tone other than of lament or, more usually, moral condemnation. A person who does not read—and for us reading means books—is a mental barbarian, a man who, wittingly or unwittingly, confines himself to his own experience, necessarily an infinitesimal proportion of all possible experiences. He is not only a barbarian, but an egotist.
…Whether the book survives or not, I am firmly of the opinion that it ought to survive, and nothing will convince me otherwise. The heart has its beliefs that evidence knows not of. For me, to browse in a bookshop, especially a second-hand one, will forever be superior to browsing on the internet precisely because chance plays a much larger part in it. There are few greater delights than entirely by chance to come across something not only fascinating in itself, but that establishes a quite unexpected connection with something else. The imagination is stimulated in a way that the more logical connections of the Internet cannot match; the Internet will make people literal-minded.