The still point of the turning world

Johann Hari has written a fine essay about books and their enduring human value. A few quotes, links and notes:

  • In the 20th century, all the nightmare-novels of the future imagined that books would be burnt. In the 21st century, our dystopias imagine a world where books are forgotten.
  • The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time by David L. Ulin.
  • If you read a book with your laptop thrumming on the other side of the room, it can be like trying to read in the middle of a party, where everyone is shouting to each other. To read, you need to slow down. You need mental silence except for the words. That’s getting harder to find.
  • [A book] says that something was worth taking from the endless torrent of data and laying down on an object that will still look the same a hundred years from now.
  • [The book] gives you the capacity for deep, linear concentration. As Ulin puts it: “Reading is an act of resistance in a landscape of distraction…. It requires us to pace ourselves. It returns us to a reckoning with time. In the midst of a book, we have no choice but to be patient, to take each thing in its moment, to let the narrative prevail. We regain the world by withdrawing from it just a little, by stepping back from the noise.”
  • Note the virtue of docility in Ulin’s quote—the ability to humble oneself and be taught.
  • The French writer Jean-Phillipe De Tonnac says “the true function of books is to safeguard the things that forgetfulness constantly threatens to destroy.”
  • We are the first generation to ever use the internet, and when I look at how we are reacting to it, I keep thinking of the Inuit communities I met in the Arctic, who were given alcohol and sugar for the first time a generation ago, and guzzled them so rapidly they were now sunk in obesity and alcoholism. Sugar, alcohol and the web are all amazing pleasures and joys—but we need to know how to handle them without letting them addle us.
  • a sense of endless online connection that leaves you oddly disconnected from yourself
  • TS Eliot called books “the still point of the turning world”. He was right. It turns out, in the age of super-speed broadband, we need dead trees to have fully living minds.

My summer office in the garage has become a reading place away from the computer and its infinite distractions.

Is it ironic that I’m posting this on my blog?


Callahan’s place

I spent a pleasant while tonight installing libraries on my Ubuntu box so I could compile the latest emacs from sources, so I could install emacs’ new hebrew.el input methods, so I could typeset a bit of the thirteenth-century Catena aurea of S. Thomas Aquinas from an 1841 edition edited by John Henry Newman, who inserted footnotes referring to S. Jerome’s fouth-century book on the interpretation of Hebrew names. I’m feeling temporally cosmopolitan tonight.

And now I see there’s a bit of Arabic on the page, too.