Besides being a writer, why would I be concerned over society’s trend toward a shorter attention span and not making time to read?
When I was growing up, my teachers, especially those in middle and high school, always put an emphasis on reading. According to them, it was reading which made the difference in understanding and retaining knowledge. I can personally attest reading opened and expanded my world, something I can appreciate because it took me a few years to discover those possibilities. (Busy with my horse acquisition program, remember?) While writing Heart of a Star, I discovered all kinds of interesting trivia, much of it random yet surprisingly useful, lurking in my noggin. The only reason much of that stuff is there is due to reading. At the very least, it gave me a starting place to do what I like to call lightening research.
I don’t have anything against audio books or podcasts as a concept, except my attention tends to wander. My brain is usually packed with a host of ideas it’s pondering, so I’m not usually lacking entertainment when I’m doing something else, like chores. That’s my version of multi-tasking. Otherwise, I feel giving my undivided attention to something is the height of efficiency. I can finish a project much faster when it has my undivided attention, and it is far less likely to have mistakes which need to be corrected.
“Knowledge is power.” Many of us who are supposedly educated have heard this saying. Yet those of us who receive education as part of our societal structure often take it for granted. However, human beings seeking power frequently restrict access to knowledge and information, when they are attempting to take control of a country or society.
Let’s look at the Romans. Their civilization started as a bunch of tribal backwoods rubes. (Folks often called Barbarians by those who thought themselves better educated and more sophisticated.) They gained advanced knowledge through the Democratic Greeks, due to a library system set up during the Hellenic period. The Romans themselves were anything except democratic. At the height of their power, they were all about enslaving those they conquered. Romans did value the written word, but not everyone had access. In Rome, reading and education were only granted to the privileged. The contents of Alexandria, Egypt’s famous library probably interested a few prominent Romans. I’m going to point you to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninis.
Ordinarily, most of us would like to think Daddy would stand up for us, and punch our jerk husband in the face for stepping out on us. (Remember Cleopatra?) I believe I can imagine exactly how the conversation went between these two, before Julius went on his diplomatic trip to Alexandria, for the purpose of inventorying its treasures for conquest. I’m all for fostering imagination, so I’m not going to spell it out for anyone. Just consider this. Lucius had a library of scrolls (a very large library) in his fancy vacation home in Herculaneum. It wouldn’t surprise me if a few scrolls from Alexandria landed in Lucius’ library.
Wherever they came from, Lucius ultimately did a very bad thing by hoarding and keeping all that knowledge to himself. His villa was covered in ash by Mt. Vesuvius, during the same eruption which destroyed the neighboring working town of Pompeii. (I learned about Mr. Lucius from the TV show “Unearthed” on the Science Channel. Who says educational TV no longer exists?) While his library has been discovered by archeologists, the scrolls are so fragile, due in large part to the volcanic heat treatment, it was difficult in the past to do anything with them. Some new technology may finally make it possible to see what information they contain.
True freedom comes from knowledge, and knowledge is best gained and retained by the written word. Supposedly, this theory was proved and supported by real science, according to my teachers. Who thought we weren’t reading enough in the 1980s! There is also still value in the printed page, as a means of resting the eyes and brain from all the electronic glare and noise, to which we constantly subject ourselves. Society has allowed itself to be manipulated and stressed by electronic devices to the point it should make us ask ourselves, “Who really owns who, here?”
Having worked in print as a graphic designer, the other senses can be engaged as well when you read. I may be a bit weird that I enjoy the smell of ink, but there are many kinds of different papers out there, in varying shades and textures. While digital may be able to capture color, I have yet to see it satisfy the sense of touch. A physical book is a total sensory experience which keeps us connected to our humanity. (I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. Ps. 139:14)
Do you consider yourself a rebel? Are you a freedom fighter? No? Have you ever considered the possibility you may have to become one someday? (It’s rarely a path we choose, but thrust upon us instead.) Alexandria’s ancient library was world famous for its approach to scholarship and collecting knowledge, though its fortunes rose and fell over the centuries, until it finally disappeared. It’s nice, a modern version has been created. But just like the ancient library, it’s located in an area which is unstable, both geographically and politically. Humanity itself is the true Library of Alexandria. Are you really too busy to read? What will happen when the day arrives that you need the knowledge of the ages, only to discover your mental library shelves are empty?
Quote of the Week
While jam is tasty, it becomes a faint memory once it’s gone. However, a good book will stay with you forever. (Yes, this is a reference to Christmas Vacation’s Jam of the Month Club.)
Please note: The image at the top of this post is not a stock image, nor is it public domain. It was taken by me for use on this blog, and may not be used elsewhere without my permission or proper credit.