Sunday, November 11, 2007

Turning the Page

If you spend a lot of time on the Web, have you noticed a change in your reading habits? Are you as able to focus your brain on print? Are you buying fewer books, newspapers or magazines?

I find myself reading far too many squibs to the detriment of more serious, thoughtful reading.

Here's a different, related look at the impact of the digitization of books.

In 1938, Alfred Kazin began work on his first book, “On Native Grounds.” The child of poor Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn, he had studied at City College. Somehow, with little money or backing, he managed to write an extraordinary book, setting the great American intellectual and literary movements from the late nineteenth century to his own time in a richly evoked historical context. One institution made his work possible: the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street. Kazin later recalled, “Anything I had heard of and wanted to see, the blessed place owned: first editions of American novels out of those germinal decades after the Civil War that led to my theme of the ‘modern’; old catalogues from long-departed Chicago publishers who had been young men in the eighteen-nineties trying to support a little realism.” Without leaving Manhattan, Kazin read his way into “lonely small towns, prairie villages, isolated colleges, dusty law offices, national magazines, and provincial ‘academies’ where no one suspected that the obedient-looking young reporters, law clerks, librarians, teachers would turn out to be Willa Cather, Robert Frost, Sinclair Lewis, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore.”
It’s an old and reassuring story: bookish boy or girl enters the cool, dark library and discovers loneliness and freedom. For the past ten years or so, however, the cities of the book have been anything but quiet. The computer and the Internet have transformed reading more dramatically than any technology since the printing press, and for the past five years Google has been at work on an ambitious project, Google Book Search.

No comments:

Lijit Ad Tag