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Posts Tagged ‘Books’

Every now and then I read an article in the news that is so disturbing to me that I find I can’t speak.  Let me preface this post by saying that I am extremely interested in technology.  I am completing a graduate degree in media studies.  I just finished an article on video gaming.  But I also am an unapologetic bibliophile.  I love books.  I love that they are filled with ideas of all kinds.  I love the way they smell and the feel of a heavy book in my hand. I like having them around me–on the shelves in my house and in my study.

It seems that a certain prep school called Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, has decided that books are simply outdated and therefore, they have given away their 20,000 volume collection and are replacing it with a cafe, computer lab, and flat screen TVs.

I’m aghast and honestly, I can’t really communicate what I feel–sadness, outrage, and incredulity, are all there in varied proportions.  I’ll leave you the link to the full article  here and finally leave you with the very germane introduction to Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death (which I highly recommend).  I’ve included his entire introduction below:

hollow

“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”
— Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)

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The Sublime and the Page

There are sublime moments of my life that stand out in my memory: sitting all alone on the beach in Florida watching the sun rise over the sea; standing on top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park watching an electrical storm rumble up the canyon toward me; sitting on an old bench outside in a small cloister in Westminster Abbey, breathing in the heart of Britain while sharing a half hour of silence with a small bird perched a foot and a half away; holding a hummingbird and straightening its wings out, brushing it off, and petting its head while it simply looked up at me for five full minutes before it flew away; standing  in the Greek Theatre at the University of Redlands, silently talking to God and feeling His presence pressing on the place, filling the huge bowl of earth to the brim; driving a small zodiak boat in the Bahamas with my best friend beside me at dusk in water so shallow I could get out and walk; listening to and smelling the fresh clean rain falling outside through an open window as I sat inside next to a cheerful fire; worshipping God on an open air rooftop in the metropolis of Bangkok as the sun set and shone its last light down on me and the two dozen other Christians whom I could not understand, but who were nonetheless one with me in spirit and purpose.

 

The beach in Florida at sunset

The beach in Florida at sunrise, very similar to the one I sat on--Satellite Beach, just south of here.

 

 

All of these things are real events; they happened to me, and I lived them.  But there are also many memories I have of intense beauty that never really happened to me, at least not in the same way as the above memories.  I have intense memories of things that only existed in my mind, brought there by symbols slopped on pressed wood pulp.  Experiences that I share with no one else, because no one else imagined them the same way that I did.  These experiences I lived through the pages of books and the countless hours spent devouring ideas and stories, descriptions of evil and good, ugliness and beauty, the commonplace and the royal.  And anyone who has a passion for stories and books knows exactly what I mean. 


 

cover-the-lord-of-the-rings1I just finished reading the Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings, and although they are codices of pages of symbols, they have affected me deeply.  I experienced more beauty in them than I have perhaps in my lifetime outside of the world of books.  Books and stories can take us far away, and I wonder what it is in our imaginations that is apparently so well-suited to telling stories.  We tell stories our whole lives, every day.  The function of stories is fascinating to me, but right now I’m just interested in seeing and feeling the sublime again.  And that is why picking one’s next book is such an important thing.  And if you haven’t had a beautiful moment recently, you need to pick up a well-written book and find a quiet spot, preferably with rain outside and fire inside, and a warm drink, and explore the realms of beauty that can only exist in the mind.  The joy of the experience and the after-ache of longing is the reward, and can never be diminished by the sudden jerk back into the shadow land of reality.

 

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