The Chronicle's piece did intrigue me enough to track down the original speech. Perhaps because of the secondary headline "In Nobel Speech, Doris Lessing Blames the Internet for a Decline in Book Reading" And in fact, both articles seem to be dwelling on one particular small portion of Lessing's lecture -- although the Chronicle writer was snarkier. Lessing stated:
...What has happened to us is an amazing invention, computers and the internet and TV, a revolution. This is not the first revolution we, the human race, has dealt with. The printing revolution, which did not take place in a matter of a few decades, but took much longer, changed our minds and ways of thinking. A foolhardy lot, we accepted it all, as we always do, never asked "What is going to happen to us now, with this invention of print?" And just as we never once stopped to ask, How are we, our minds, going to change with the new internet, which has seduced a whole generation into its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging and blugging etc.
Very recently, anyone even mildly educated would respect learning, education, and owe respect to our great store of literature. Of course we all know that when this happy state was with us, people would pretend to read, would pretend respect for learning, but it is on record that working men and women longed for books, and this is evidenced by the working men's libraries, institutes, colleges of the 18th and 19th centuries.
But the thing that bothered me the most was the cattiness displayed by the Chronicle writer -- he couldn't debate why she was wrong -- he could only respond with:
...Even so, I never would have heard of her speech — and the other countless ideas I’m exposed to online each day — without all that “blogging and blugging.”...He really seemed to have missed the point - that without the reading of literature he wouldn't be interested in knowing all the rest.
The Chronicle writer starts
Not long ago I attended a party at a house where there didn’t seem to be any books. It was a young couple that I didn’t know well, and there were plenty of new furnishings and decorations, and a large flat-screen TV — but no bookshelves....As a person who has more books in her house than my mom/stepdad, dad/stepmom, father-in-law/step-mother-in-law, mother-in-law/step-father-in-law, and all the grandparents associated with the previously mentioned combined -- I say, BAH! Having books in your house isn't an indication of young or old (smart or dumb)-- it's an indication of 1) How much of a pack rat you are 2) Amount of dusting you are willing to do and/or 3) How paranoid you are that you may need that 1920 encyclopedia should the big one ever occur...
Perhaps the writer doesn't mean anything and I'm just being sensitive (especially after being encased in ice the past couple of days). After all he just wants to get people to the Chronicle site to read the other articles. But -- Lessing is the same age as my dad's parents and when I think of someone picking on them for something they say I get a bit miffed. My grandparents are at the other end of the culture/political spectrum than me -- but I realize that being born around the time or World War I and coming of age in or around the Depression -- gives people a different look at the world, education, literature and leisure. And I think the Chronicle author missed that...
Mind you - Lessing's view on leisure reading is a bit different than my grandparents'. I do not believe I have ever seen my grandparents pick a book up to read recreationaly (although I can tell you that my granpa told me Angela's Ashes was extremely depressing and he didn't need to be reminded on how the Irish were treated considering he lived it). When they were younger they didn't have time for that they had to work and raise a family - but they did foster in me a joy of learning (which was the gateway to reading literature).
I think Lessing is wanting to know is that the desire to learn and think creatively and compassionately still exists somewhere. It isn't necessarily the rant of an old luddite - since not all old people are luddites and not all luddites are old. For the compassion, creativity and learning to progress there has to be a certain level of in person interaction (I mean wouldn't the library vendors freaked if they didn't get to attend another conference?). After all compassion, creativity, and learning are things that have always gone hand in hand with reading literature - not blogs (like this one) or newspapers or magazines -- according to the NEA study
The decline in literary reading foreshadows an erosion in cultural and civic participation....so there you have it -- the ramblings of a frozen brain - are you all thawed out yet?
*Literary reading strongly correlates to other forms of active civic participation.
*Literary readers are more likely than non-literary readers to perform volunteer and charity work, visit art museums, attend performing arts events, and attend sporting events.