The Bookish Life

Joseph Epstein in First Things:

The act of reading—office memos, newspaper articles on trade and monetary policy, and bureaucratic bumpf apart—should if possible never be separable from pleasure. Twenty or so years ago there was a vogue for speed-reading. (“I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes,” Woody Allen quipped. “It involves Russia.”) But why, one wonders, would you wish to speed up an activity that gives pleasure? Speed-reading? I’d as soon take a course in speed-eating or speed-lovemaking. Yet the notion of speed generally hovers over the act of reading. “A real page-turner,” people say of certain novels or biographies. I prefer to read books that are page-stoppers, that cause me to stop and contemplate a striking idea, an elegant phrase, an admirably constructed sentence. A serious reader reads with a pencil in hand, to sideline, underline, make a note.

Nor, I suspect, is the bookish soul likely to read chiefly on a Kindle or a tablet. I won’t go into the matter of the aesthetics of book design, the smell of books, the fine feel of a well-made book in one’s hands, lest I be taken for a hedonist, a reactionary, and a snob. More important, apart from the convenience of Kindles and tablets—in allowing for enlarged print, in portability if one wants to take more than one or two books along when traveling—I have come to believe that there is a mysterious but quite real difference between words on pixel and words in print. For reasons that perhaps one day brain ­science will reveal to us, print has more weight, a more substantial feel, makes a greater demand on one’s attention, than the pixel. One tends not to note a writer’s style as clearly in pixels as one does in print. Presented with a thirty- or forty-paragraph piece of writing in pixels, one wants to skim after fifteen or twenty paragraphs in a way that one doesn’t ordinarily wish to do in print. Pixels for information and convenience, then, print for knowledge and pleasure is my sense of the difference between the two.

More here.