Mairead Small Staid at The Paris Review:
Birkerts’s argument (and mine) isn’t that books alleviate loneliness, either: to claim a goal shared by every last app and website is to lose the fight for literature before it starts. No, the power of art—and many books are, still, art, not entertainment—lies in the way it turns us inward and outward, all at once. The communion we seek, scanning titles or turning pages, is not with others—not even the others, living or long dead, who wrote the words we read—but with ourselves. Our finest capacities, too easily forgotten.
Early in The Gutenberg Elegies, Birkerts summarizes historian Rolf Engelsing’s definition of reading “intensively” as the common practice of most readers before the nineteenth century, when books, which were scarce and expensive, were often read aloud and many times over.