There’s a debate going on in the Guardian book blog at the moment that I’ve been weighing in on – the author of the post, Sam Jordison (who confusingly looks just like my friend Paul), references Nicholas Carr’s article ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’, describing it’s premise as touching on “two perennial favourites for books bloggers: The Death Of The Novel and How The Internet Changes Everything.”

Although Jordison doesn’t define ‘deep reading’ in his article, we came to an agreement in the comments that “we’re talking about a reading that produces a detailed analysis of the language, themes, etc of the text” (my words). He concludes that his novel reading has yet to be affected by the way he reads online – I’d be interested in research about the way people read e-books, if anyone’s bored – and I’d agree. In fact, most book bloggers I read are still really invested in ‘deep reading’. I’ll maybe skim the odd paragraph if it’s a re-read or a bad book, but I don’t understand the concept of reading a novel and not taking it all in. I think the way we read articles can be different to the way we read literature, and that’s OK. They’re constructed differently, so why should we automatically read them in the same way? I don’t read Calvino’s On a Winter’s Night a Traveller in the same way I read Jane Eyre, after all.

Don’t forget, it’s perfectly possible to read ‘deeply’ using the definition we came up with, and still get distracted. Just because I made two cups of tea, ate some toast and fed my cat in between finishing The Lake of Dead Languages this morning doesn’t mean that my reading experience was adversely affected. Apart from the bit where the cat, in protest about not having had any breakfast, jumped on my lap and spilled my scalding hot cup of tea all over me. Then again, that wasn’t an adverse reading experience as much as it was third degree burns.

…You know, maybe it’s nice to have something to blame my total lack of attention span on, even though I’m pretty sure that the internet has merely encouraged rather than created it. And anyway, isn’t multitasking considered to be an advantage these days?

Jordison sums this up pretty accurately in his blog post:

Speaking personally, I can half take the author’s point. Indeed, I only initially skimmed his article (even though I thought it was quite smart). It was only when contemplating linking to the piece in this blog that I forced myself to read it in its entirety. Meanwhile, since I started writing this short article I’ve also checked my email, had a brief skim of facebook and navigated to the Guardian sport pages and my favourite time-wasting resource, the over-by-over cricket coverage.

Even so, I do wonder if Carr is slightly (and perhaps deliberately) blurring a few boundaries. My own approach to novels – I think – remains much as it ever has. I have few problems sustaining concentration on single works for long periods of time. Indeed, part of the pleasure of a paper book comes in the contrast engaging with them presents to the frenetic internet flitting that takes up so much of my working day. It’s a relief to come to something that (generally) must be absorbed in a linear, gradual and sustained fashion.

There’s an interesting parallel to this in an article by Michael Agger in last month’s Slate magazine – this time focusing on the way that we write differently now that we’re all inseparable from our wi-fi connections. Inevitably, the way I think – and therefore the way I read and write – is influenced by the media I consume. If someone takes a photograph, I know it’s going to end up on Facebook. I write blog posts and Twitter updates in my head whenever random thoughts occur to me. But I’ve always done that, turned my life into a narrative – the only difference is that now I type them onto a computer screen instead of in my notebook, and everyone gets to see them instead of just me. I don’t think the internet has changed my behaviour as much as it has enabled it.

After all, surely as writers the thing we aim for is for someone to read our text deeply – no matter where and in what medium we publish it.

(I’m blogging about a blog post that was partially about blogging. It’s so meta, it hurts.)

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