Lene Trunjer Petersen
Last Saturday, Sept. 29, I attended the AGH BMO World Film Festival screening of the American documentary Out of Print. I knew from the trailer that the film was going to be kind of depressing, especially because I’m studying literature, and absolutely love the feeling of a book in my hands. My favourite Sunday activity is to sit somewhere comfortable, open a book, touch the thin paper and let myself disappear into the world of letters. But maybe in a few years it will be some sort of an e-reader that I have in my hands. An electronic device doesn’t have the distinct scent of a book, nor the beauty. Will the reading experience be the same?
Unfortunately it’s not only a battle between old-fashioned books and e-readers, but within our culture. The ability to read a book may be disappearing into an abyss of illiteracy. People use the Internet not only for gaining information, but also to read snippets of a book, or even just reviews, so they don’t have to read the whole thing themselves. Suddenly, it’s a matter of forcing kids to read, rather than being concerned about what they are reading.
I still remember my first encounter with a book. My mother would read to me at bedtime, and at the age of six I could read by myself. My all time favourites were Mio, My Son and The Brothers Lionheart, by the Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren. There is just nothing like feeling part of a written universe in which the characters are your new best friends – just for a while.
The filmmakers behind Out of Print emphasize the importance of reading, not only for learning, but to develop the ability to reflect, and think critically and abstractly. They question what happens with our own fantasy and development of empathy if reading does not challenge us. But it’s not really kids’ fault. They need role models and inspiration. How can we, as adults, give them that when the majority of the population is reading less than stimulating bestsellers, like Fifty Shades of Grey? Who will ever know Ishmael, laugh with Don Quixote, or sail alongside Odysseus, if they dare not open a classic book? They are not just dust and old words. They have real meaning and reach out to us throughout time.
In Out of Print, the American author Scott Turow raises additional question about the lack of diversity in our literary culture. Authors are fighting to earn a living from publishing their books. Their difficulty can be explained by a general societal reluctance to pay for literature. We look books up online, but Turow makes that excellent point that we don’t expect cars and electronic devices to be similarly free of cost – just information.
I am not here on a crusade to keep the printed book at the expense of e-readers and the Internet. I can’t live without my Internet connection, and I’m a big consumer of information both on the net and in printed form. But even though a lot of people are publishing online, we need to question the quality of what we read. I really wish that people would step outside their comfort zone, engage with different books, broaden their perspectives and remember their responsibility to inspire others to do the same. Literature is our very soul, and books can help challenge our thoughts about who we are.
So please, don’t let the printed book die.