Twilight of the Books

I was reading the New Yorker the other day and read this article about the “Twilight of Books” and how because of television, less and less people are reading, and this is of course a bad thing, not just for writers like myself 🙂 but for society and democracy as a whole. Anyway, apparently if you read the news, you are more likely to remember differing opinions and come to your own independent conclusion whereas if you merely watch the news, all information just kind of seeps out of your brain and leaves you a zombie.

Now I am not anti-TV at all. There are three very large flat-screen TVs in my home and my brother bought my dad a new 50-inch 1080-res flatscreen for Christmas, which overjoyed my dad so much that he declared that “only one of his children loves him.” Ha! So, you know I love me some television—it’s in my blood. And my husband’s parents are so pro-TV that they get really annoyed when any of their children meekly suggests that maybe watching TV is not good for their kids. (Mike and I are wrestling with this right now: unfortunately, Mattie LOVES the TV. We put Sesame Street on when she wakes up because it means we get to sleep in a little longer. But now our electronic babysitter is biting us in the ass. Whenever Mattie sees any of the TVs in our home, she immediately picks up the remote and demands to see “Melmo!”)

But you know—the pleasures of watching and the pleasures of reading are such different things. I LOVE books, in such a personal, intimate way, whereas I merely enjoy television. I don’t love the shows. They don’t inspire that kind of feeling, that kind of passion. The article had a great quote from Proust that I’m going to quote now because I love it so much:

To read “is to receive a communication with another way of thinking, all the while remaining alone, that is, while continuing to enjoy the intellectual power that one has in solitude and that conversation dissipates immediately.”

I love that—“intellectual power that conversation DISSIPATES immediately.” I mean, in person, I am not even a fourth as articulate as I am in print. Mostly I giggle and smile a lot and act a bit goofy. My husband, also, is very quiet in person. But he’s pretty much the smartest guy I know. (Hey girls: marry the funniest and the smartest guy you know NOT the cutest. The cute ones are usually pretty dumb. I mean: I thought Zac Efron was gorgeous but now he just looks kind of dim-witted to me. Especially wearing his long bangs in a ponytail and drinking a Jamba like he was in Us Weekly. Although you know, come to think of it, if you saw me schlepping out of the Jamba with a large frosty drink wearing my Uggs and my hair in a ponytail and my Marc Jacobs aviators, you’d probably think I was stoopit too. So you know, we can’t judge. Anyway, If you’re lucky you’ll get smart and cute and funny. And any guy can be cute. You don’t need conventionally cute. I think ugly and interesting and funny is so much better. My friends were always in despair of my taste. They thought the guys I liked were so ugly. Although I did marry a good-looking dude. Well, like I said, sometimes you get lucky.) 

Anyway, when I told Mike about this article, he brought up a lot of points about how maybe TV-watching is not the end of the world and no one can really predict how things will go and it’s never as bad as it seems. Mike tends to always question things he reads with a healthy skepticism, while I slavishly believe everything I read. He always reminds me of this, as in, “Why do you believe everything you read in magazines when you used to WRITE for them and you KNOW how manipulative and fake all the stories are.”

It’s true. I would put together BEST HAIR PRODUCT pages and on the instruction of my editor, put in a cheapo one and an expensive advertiser one, because that was the mag’s policy. And yet, whenever I flip through the beauty pages, I still rip out their BEST HAIR PRODUCT pages and go buy what they recommend. Even if I know how they chose it. I can’t help myself. Also, there are a lot of very SERIOUS beauty editors out there—who really test the products and decide why something is worth writing about. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them. I just loved all the free loot!

Well. Back to the quote and reading. What I liked about that quote is that it also tells us WHY it is that books inspire so much passion—or in the case of bad reviews and disgruntled readers—so much hatred and anger. Because it is a “COMMUNICATION with ANOTHER way of thinking.” So if you disagree with the point-of-view of a novel or a book, you virulently HATE it. Whereas if you agree with it, you find an affection for it that is very deep.

Anyway, I just thought that was a really interesting article, because it really summed up why reading is important and how reading doesn’t just spark the imagination but INSPIRES people to better themselves and have better lives. It simply amazes me that I have the life that I have now. Not because my parents didn’t expect it—we were always expected to succeed—but because I have the life that I alone wanted and dreamed of—the life of a writer.

One thing that I always feel gratified by is the amount of mail I get from teens who say they never liked to read before, until they found my books. Reading is a PLEASURE. I got hooked on reading because of popular authors and their racy, steamy books…like Judith Krantz’s “I’ll Take Manhattan!” (I still remember the scene where the heroine is tapped down by the airport police going through the metal detector and she snaps her black underwear at them. It just stuck in my mind because I grew up in a very conservative environment and the black underwear thing seemed so deliciously racy and naughty and spelled adult freedom. When I was out of the house and in college the first thing I did was buy black underwear. Does it have the same resonance now? With the porn-star t-shirts and thongs for seven-year-olds?) 

Back to the Blue Bloods and the Ashleys! And sorry if people thought the sneak-peek was cruel. It wasn’t meant to be!

xoxo
Mel