9 Following

Words, Words, Words

A catalog of my comments and thoughts on books, reading, and writing as well as anything I come across that seems interesting. I used to sell other people's words at an independent bookstore but now I hope to get by on selling my own.

Books, Records, and the Cost of Admission

A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan High Fidelity (Movie-tie In) - Nick Hornby Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays - Zadie Smith

One of the great effects of the digital revolution is that more access means we are reading and listening more than ever. We tend to be conservative with what is classified as time spent reading, but we're doing it all the time. We read texts on our phones, we read headlines and articles, timelines, newsfeeds, walls, tweets, blogs, shares, posts, tags, and many other things. The world of music is even more cluttered. We are woken by music and most of our day will be spent with music in the background, broken only for television, sleep, and maybe a few incidental moments in between. It would appear to be an industry that has already been won, but then not really.


My friend and I have been looking forward to Record Store Day--this past Saturday, April 19--for over a month. I recently purchased a new record player for my apartment and they have quickly risen to second in the world of things-I-keep-spending-money-on. First place is still books. Why is it that I drop sixteen dollars for Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus on vinyl, when I could download it for six or simply stream it for free through Spotify?


Many others have tried to qualify the experience. Record buyers stick to discussing sound quality while book lovers tend to discuss feel and scent in addition to the aesthetically pleasing tint of aged pages. I think the secret lies somewhere else entirely, I think it has to do with investment.


Zadie Smith broaches the subject in her essay in David Foster Wallace, the idea being that gifts for which we have worked are more precious than those that are freely given. For her it is the works of David Foster Wallace, which are difficult and reward those who work through it, people who read closely and reread, but I see the same principle in the way we consume music and literature. 


Open up the closet and get into the box where I keep my records. Pull out Gold by Ryan Adams. Remove disc one from the sleeve then from the inner sleeve. Place it on the turntable, turn on the system, lift the needle with your forefinger, ease it onto the spinning vinyl disk and let the music take you away. Until you have to turn it in twenty minutes. It's not all the much effort, but I could have gotten it going at my desk with just my forefinger. The small pains taken are a declaration of intent. Unlike my time at work, on the treadmill, or in the car the music will take center stage. I am listening to music now. I might fold my laundry or check my email, I rarely stop everything, but I understand that it's not white noise anymore, it is an end in itself.


Reading also rewards those who can focus, and I think the benefits are even greater. When reading, I can stop everything else to pick up a book for an hour. On my devices I will flip over to a text or to facebook. All my notifications are put right in front of me. But when I have turned off the screen, occupied my hands with keeping the book open and put a few steps between myself and my distractions, I can inhabit the world with in the story more effectively. Novels, any kind of books, they are more than just facts, each line does more than inform the next, they flow through each other and create impressions and emotions. 


I don't mean to sound so prescriptive. I don't lock myself away or turn off my phone. Distractions find me as much as anyone. I just mean to say that you get out of something what you put into it. These days I try to let go of the numbers. How much I read, or how fast, its all a losing race. I want to get as much out of what I do have. I want to put on Elton John and listen to the songs I love and when I read, I want to be in the story.