Robert Cormack

1 year ago · 4 min. reading time · visibility 0 ·

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Is Reading For Chumps?

Or do we just prefer to hear our own voices?

Is Reading For Chumps?

Everybody’s talking at once in a hypnotic, hyper din: the cocktail party from hell.” Maureen Dowd

“Reading is 4 chumps, brotha,” Mew16 wrote on Reddit, an opinion shared by many commenting— and not just brothas. As one woman explained, “Maybe it was being forced to read for 12 years, and the whole thing associated with shitty teachers and shitty people and shitty memories.”

Whether “shitty” memories can account for not reading, or the content of books themselves, certainly there’s a turn-off rate. Even institutions of higher learning show a staggering lack of interest in reading, with 42 percent of graduates never picking up another book after college.

A number of people in the discussion group blamed “fillers,” the often lazy descriptions found in books. One example posted was: “The ground was moist with a little bit of water still on the grass.” Perhaps a more exact word like “dew” might have helped, or the fact that moisture is water.

A recent study showed that 57 percent of new books are never finished. That’s a lot of bored people.

“I wish people would just tell the fucking story,” someone else wrote, “I’ll make the atmosphere in my head.” That’s all well and good if the person can work out the scene in their heads. Where it gets tricky is when focusing is considered too time consuming or just plain boring.

Boredom seems to strike a majority of people with at least the intention of reading. A recent study showed that 57 percent of new books are never finished. That’s a lot of bored people.

“Eh, I’m a visual person,” another man added, “and reading really doesn’t do anything for me. Aside from stuff on Reddit or the Interwebz, you won’t catch me picking up a book, magazine or newspaper like ever.”

As much as we’d like to think we’re visualists, it’s a bit of a cope-out. Turning to the television, or movies — or Reddit — isn’t so much an alternative to books as an alternative to thinking. Just as we watch the tube to turn off our brains (so much going on, brotha), we also find books lack the noise of security.

To say we’ve shortened our attention spans with television, movies and Netflix is like saying comic books spoiled us for reading. It didn’t spoil us.

Exchanging comments on Reddit may be words, but there’s a sound attached to the commentary — even if it’s our own voice shouting at our laptops. Being vocal lets off steam, and discussion groups prove we can type faster than we think.

It’s like shouting at baseball games on TV. We don’t care if José Bautista or Don Mattingly hear us. It would be nice if they did, but who wants to get up? We can’t even be bothered picking the pizza up off the rug.

To say we’ve shortened our attention spans with television, movies and Netflix is like saying comic books spoiled us for reading. It didn’t spoil us. We saw thought balloons. They summarized the plot, they moved things along.

When Tim Burton’s “Batman” came out, we heard a superhero for the first time. Michael Keaton sounded like a superhero. It’s a shame Halle Berry didn’t sound like Catwoman. Schwarzenegger sounded more like Catwoman than she did.

Skype and FaceTime seemed heaven sent. We could see and talk to people miles away, even do naughty things, until we realized any hacker could pick up our Skype sex, releasing it later on YouTube as a manifest to long distance masturbation.

“Never get a mime to talk,” Marcel Marceau once said. “He won’t stop.” That pretty much summarizes us. Every minute of the day, we worry about being bottled up, ready to release in one long expletive.

We find it better to keep verbalizing. It’s healthy. We don’t even mind talking to ourselves, since as Franklin P. Jones explained, “At least you know someone’s listening.”

Maybe that’s why we hate reading so much. Dead air scares us. Silence suggests a downed line, a computer glitch.

When we post pictures on Snapchat, it’s not so much about memories as talking. It’s how we create conversation, hopefully the good kind like “You still look as gorgeous as ever.”

Compliments fill Facebook every day. Just changing your profile picture initiates a discussion about the most important thing in your life — you. Talking, in any form, is inevitably about you.

Maybe that’s why we hate reading so much. Dead air scares us. Silence suggests a downed line, a computer glitch. Saying we’re visualists, or adrenaline junkies, or simply bored are the true hallmarks of an oralist.

Oralists make up the majority of the population. Eighty percent of U.S. families, approx. 320 million people, didn’t buy or read a book last year.

That leaves a lot of time for chatting, texting, posting and checking to see if you’re on YouTube under: “Idiots Who Thought Skype Sex Was Between Two Consulting Adults.” On a strictly discussion basis, it’s still a conversation starter. You could get a million hits, with at least one person saying, “The same thing happened to me at The Meridian, dude.”

“When I’m 80 years old, I still want people talking about my wedding,” Jennifer Hudson admitted, and anything’s possible in this digital age. We can set time clocks to release wedding videos fifty years from now.

Our presidents, our senates, our whole congressional framework is based on what looks good, sounds good and ultimately gets shot down by others with different numbers.

“Everybody is continuously connected to everybody else on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram,” Maureen Dowd wrote, “with the flood of information jeopardizing meaning. Everybody’s talking at once in a hypnotic, hyper din: the cocktail party from hell.”

If we’re “jeopardizing meaning,” as Maureen says, is that such a bad thing? So much of what we see and hear is proven to be false. We’re a society of let downs. Look at our congressional framework. It’s based on what looks good, sounds good and ultimately gets shot down by others with different numbers.

Who do we trust? We don’t trust anybody. We like our “cocktails from hell,” our relentless pursuits of talking over reading, over listening — over doing just about anything. If it’s hypnotic, or a “hyper din,” that’s okay because it’s a better din than the outside din. It’s our din.

It was a hotel, maybe a Holiday Inn or a Meridian, and one day it’ll be on YouTube under: “Idiots Who Grab The Clam When They Shouldn’t.”

We talk because we can trust ourselves, and that works for us, or as Louis C.K. summarized before his own career went in the crapper: “Talking is always positive. That’s why I talk so much.”

Hopefully, it works better for us. It wasn’t talking that got him into trouble, anyway. Choosing the Holiday Inn or Meridian to practice your act (as Louis did) will inevitably show up on YouTube under: “Idiots Who Grab Their Clam When They Shouldn’t.”

Better to talk and enjoy the hyper din: the cocktail from hell. It’s what we know, what we comfortable with, and what makes us feel safe.

Robert Cormack is a novelist, journalist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores (now in paperback). Check out Skyhorse Press or Simon & Schuster for more details.


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Robert Cormack

1 year ago #7

We do like our dopamine rush, Preston \ud83d\udc1d Vander Ven. When I was young, and the television could only be turned on in the evening, I read books like crazy: mysteries, high sea adventures—essentially anything that took me far, far away (until Bonanza was on).

Robert Cormack

1 year ago #6

All interesting quotes, John Rylance. Books remind me that the real world is just one world. The other exists on both the page and the imagination. If it weren't for books, I'd probably be the person scanning blogs, looking for naughty words. As it stands now, I can write those naughty words. Thanks, books.

John Rylance

1 year ago #5

I see you have taken your hobby horse for a ride. I agree with your comments. Reading gives us so many relevant quotes. To read is to voyage through time. Carl Sagan There is no friend as loyal as a book. Earnest Hemingway. The best book will do it all. Make us laugh, think, cry, cheer, preferably in that order. Madeleine Albright Wherever I am if I've got a book with me I have a place I can go and be happy. J K Rowling As to unread/part read books this one. A classic book is a book everyone is assumed to have read, and often they think they have read. Alan Bennet. A good maxim might be this one courtesy of Lemony Snicket in the Horseradish Bitter Truths book. Never trust anyone who has not bought a book with them.#3

Robert Cormack

1 year ago #4

Nicely said, Ken Boddie. I've seen the same thing, particularly on Medium where they give the average time of reading. The major of my articles, coming in at around 6 minutes, have an average reading time of 28.6 seconds. The fact that I research what I write and, to a certain extent, labor over my efforts, makes those numbers disheartening. At the same time, like you, I prefer books, some of which have gotten bigger and bigger. I finished a monster last fall, a biography of President Ulysses Grant, by Don Chernow (very good, by the way). Now I'm reading "The Silk Roads," by Peter Frankopan, an amazing new history of the world. Frankopan explains how trade was responsible for every exploration. Each page is fascinating to the point where Wendy has to tell me to shut up. I don't know if it's age or what, but I feel I'm running contrary to everyone else. Maybe I'm cramming all this information in, hoping somehow it'll stave off the inevitable senility Wendy claims is already claiming a beachhead in my brain. "You can remember the entire route of Marco Polo and you forget the garbage, honey?" she'll say, but believe me, she'll coming running when it's time to choose an exotic vacation. "Silk Roads, babe," I'll tell her, "they're still out there, waiting for intrepid adventurers like us." She'll belt me with something, I know it. I'm forgetful, she's violent. At least we've got something to fight about. Wait'll those millennials face old age. Frankly, I think they'll be throwing computer screens (old ones).

Ken Boddie

1 year ago #3

I’ve had this decreasing attention span discussion many times with on line and off line friends, Robert, and concluded that the main common themes at fault appear to be the rise of social media and the advent of the smart phone. We are becoming impatient due to a drive for immediate gratification and are learning to speed read to the bottom line without appreciating the art of good grammar, spelling and, in effect, the beauty of well constructed sentences. Alliteration, paradox and traditional figures of speech are going the way of the dodo, at least in the on-line playhouse. That is why I personally take great delight in reading a well chosen book. It slows me down and lets me figuratively smell the roses. Similarly I still appreciate the chance to read a newspaper, spread across a table, while my senses are stirred by the aroma of coffee tempered by the touch and faint odour of print. I find that I absorb much more information, while in hard print reading mode, whether books, journals or magazines, whereas on line, the zest for instant self gratification and bottom line information kicks in all too quickly. Perhaps it’s merely “different toys for different girls and boys” or maybe, and more likely, we’re slowly degenerating into inattentive zombies. But we don’t all need to ride the fast info-lust train into oblivion. Bring back the hammock, a good book, a glass of wine and a modicum of procrastination and the mind can’t help but reawaken to vibrant imagery.

Robert Cormack

1 year ago #2

Bless your little ol' heart, Pascal Derrien

Pascal Derrien

1 year ago #1

Maybe most of the books should actually be written by you that would definitely increase the readership 😉

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