Ha Neul Lee explores whether reading is still relevant in the age of the internet.
In an era where knowledge is just a Google search away, remembering information is getting less and less important. There is, apparently, just no incentive to read. People can watch film or TV adaptations of fictional novels. Information from non-fiction can easily be found on the Internet or requested from Alexa who reads it for you, and prevents you from doing any of that pesky reading. You can fall asleep listening to Stephen Fry’s calming narration of audiobooks. So why do we read?
As a child, I used to read constantly. Whether I was sneaking glances under the table during classes or gleefully passing the time in hospital waiting rooms, a book was always glued to my hand. Now, however, I’m slightly ashamed to say that I haven’t read a book that wasn’t course-mandated in the past few years. It’s gotten to the extent that I don’t really remember some of the books I’ve read in the past – I’ve started reading a book before realising I’ve read it before.
Following a sequence of existential crises, I started deliberating the purpose of reading. I could just as well search up the plot of the latest literary trend on SparkNotes or Wikipedia, instead of spending hours or even days reading through electronic or paper pages. Local bookstores have been struggling for some time, that much is true, and they’ve been hit especially hard by coronavirus. For the past few years, audiobook sales have been rising rapidly. Does this not mean that reading, on paper at least, is dying out?
With the successful launch of Bookshop.org in the UK this month, that doesn’t seem to be the case. An organisation dedicated to helping independent bookstores survive, this seems to be igniting the revival of reading that people (and businesses) are looking for. Already a popular platform in the US, it has been making steady progress in the UK with 250 local bookstores signed onto their website in the first week of their UK launch, and plenty more added since.
With most of us locked in our homes, books have regained a sense of importance in our lives. According to Nielsen Book, “The sales data suggests that the UK population has indeed been preparing for long periods of isolation.”. They also state that there has been a big increase in sales of paperback novels. This makes sense – we can spend hours increasing our own self-knowledge or using our imaginations to build an entire fictional world. It provides escapism from our somewhat-grim reality. Ultimately, reading is no longer as productive as it once was, as we have easier, more efficient alternatives. But I would argue that reading has now become an experience. It gives people a chance to rest their eyes from all the blue light surrounding our now mainly online lives. People can rest their minds as they escape to an entirely new world. Who cares if it's not productive? In a fast-paced society, books have the ability to slow it down or stop time entirely. So maybe we should stop interrogating ourselves about whether there’s any “point” to reading, and accept the simple and overwhelming comfort it can bring us.