Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Guest Post: Mike Fischer on the Next Decade in Book Culture

By Mike Fischer

As we wrap up the “aughts” decade, with digital books galore on the horizon (and the $195 Norton facsimile edition of C.J. Jung's objet d'art/culture The Red Book selling out around the country), the NBCC seeks the best guest posts about the future of book culture, including essays,interviews and free-range opining. The topic: How do you see book culture evolving over the next decade? This addition to the series is from NBCC member critic Mike Fischer.

Posting on Critical Mass back in 2007 regarding the function of reviews in our society, Richard Powers described reviewing as the “shared solitude of reading,” noting that the “engaged seclusion and slow reflection” which reading requires would become more valuable as the electronic din grew louder. That post, in old-fashioned hard copy, hangs above my workspace, greeting me every day when I come to work.

Powers wasn’t decrying the proliferation of blogs. But he was challenging those of us writing posts like this one to ensure that we continued, as Tess Taylor wrote so beautifully in her post in this series, to “make parks and wildernesses for our minds” in which we can read, undisturbed by the electronic chatter.

If reading is to survive as more than a cult activity, all of us need to create such sanctuaries. That means reading fewer blogs and sending fewer e-mails so that we can spend more time reading books. It means spending more time alone––learning anew how to really hear the writers we read––so that we can spend better and more rewarding time together.

Those who read this post––a group which, by definition, cares about the future of reading––will each choose their own way of embracing this paradox. For me, running the “long distances” that Tess speaks of has required limiting the time I spend reading blogs of any kind to 1 hour or less each day, and foregoing the temptation to start a blog of my own. It has meant doing without a portable electronic device. It has meant limiting my access to a computer; I do my electronic reading before or after work, and I do not have a computer in my home. It has meant keeping a paper and ink journal, knowing well that most of what I write there will never be read––and thereby having the freedom to work out my preliminary ideas about a book without having to worry what they sound like or how they will play or whether they run on to long or even whether they make sense.

To paraphrase Powers, I ultimately seek opportunities to share what I have learned in my solitude. I wouldn’t be writing this post, or reading those that others have written in this series, if I felt otherwise. But I value those conversations all the more because they happen rarely and I choose them carefully––not because I am anti-social, but because I firmly believe that we will never hear each other unless we first remember the sound of silence.