The Pleasures of the Skimmed Text

December 31, 2007

The Pleasures of the Text

With the new year coming, one of my goal is to read more books. Each year I failed, just like the diet, just like my goal to stick with a journal to keep a diary. Well, I read that comparison in ‘The New Yorker’. The article compared keeping a diary and keeping to a diet. I read the first few paragraphs of it and had to ….’make a cup of tea’…yeah that’s my excuse. One of the advice that Bill Buford got from his mentor is to keep the reader interested. One needs to edit to keep readers reading. Readers are far and few these days and they lead busy lives. They need to make tea or go shopping, as I did when I dropped that article I meant to read. Well good news for you people out there. ‘How to talk about books you have not read’ by Pierre Bayard is here to ease the guilt and make one seem culturally aware and cultivated in conversations. I have not read it but there is a funny review of it in the NY Times by Jay MacInery. I can attempt to talk about it and it would be okay. This book is a total opposite of the other book I heard about (HB), but not read, call ‘The Pleasures of the Text’ By Roland Barthes. There is an actual category call HB – Heard about Books. It’s interesting that both of these are written by the French. The little bit of what I read from the readers/reviewers in Goodreads.com, leads me to believe that, like skimmed milk, the reading experience isn’t as rich and rewarding but probably a bit healthier. Leave it to the French to ponder the act of reading. The Americans talk about it too. Recently I just watched Francois Truffaut’s film version of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Here’s an extreme example of reading where by the people memorized the book and become the book and be introduced as a book title by it’s author. In this day and age where I have to write down a grocery list the four or five items I need to buy, I can’t fathom trying to remember a book. Sometimes I look back on the agenda of the passing days and can’t recall what happen that day unless I have a small jotted note. All of these has to do with our relationship with paper. Roland Barthes rhapsodized about the smell and the physical presence of the text and seeing the printed fonts. In this day and age, most books are digested in the forms of audio CD, or re-imagined on DVD. I listened to, but have not read, Fahrenheit 451. The audio version was probably an abridged version. Ironically, Bradbury predicted the ipod age where ear phones are chirping like crickets in every one’s ears. He didn’t know or maybe he sensed that, some day, his books will be on tape or CD, the book that he originally typed on a type writer rented by the hour at his favorite library. With the introduction of the Kindle, an Amazon ebook, paper book is disappearing or have morphed into other forms as we become more detached with the origins of the text on the page. But to be fair, the first text was probably written in stone, clay, and papyrus. It’s closest cousin is probably the paper. Language have evolved as the medium which carries them. This message was clearly mentioned and conceptualized in the novel “Snow Crash”, I book that I’ve talked about before but have yet fully read to the last page! Clearly, reviewers can talk about certain books without reading about it which makes me wonder and distrust all reviews and reviewers. So that’s my example of how to talk about books I’ve never read.

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One Response to “The Pleasures of the Skimmed Text”


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