James Walton has an article in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph which is entitled: ‘Reading Books is not a duty, Mr Zuckerberg’.
Walton begins by saying:
“Books,” according to the chick-lit author and former Member of Parliament Louise Mensch, “were what we used to do before the internet.” Now, though, it seems that these ancient artefacts may be making a comeback. No less a figure than Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, has declared 2015 “A Year of Books” and is inviting his website users to join him in his New Year’s resolution of reading and discussing one a fortnight. His first choice is Moisés Naim’s The End of Power, which explores the growing power of ‘anti-political’ movements such as the Tea Party and Ukip – thanks, as luck wold have it, to their use of Facebook. Zuckerberg launched his project by announcing, with what sounds almost like surprise, that books are “intellectually fulfilling” and “allow you too explore a topic . . . in a deeper way than most media today”. For old school book lovers, the literary reference that springs most readily to mind is “no —-, Sherlock”.
Walton continues: You might also be tempted to imagine a world in which there had been 700 years of internet, before, in the Nineties, somebody invented books. It would surely seem a miracle that, instead of trawling acres of semi-reliable information, you could have a guaranteed, portable and inexpensive source of knowledge from someone who knows both how to write and what they’re talking about. But it appears that in his shock discovery of books potential, Zuckerberg is not alone. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal praised a new campaign of “slow reading”, whose members meet once a week in a café, turn off their phones for a whole hour and read in silence. Such quiet reading, the headline declared, can “benefit your brain” (again, not a revelation that would have startled Sherlock Holmes.) While today’s bibliophiles might want to pounce on anything that smacks of good news, I can’t help wondering if using books purely as a means of self improvement – with elements of self-congratulation thrown in – misses the point of reading.
Walton goes on to make the point, via Nick Hornby, that people should read books for enjoyment and should not bother to finish the ones they don’t enjoy. “Every time we pick up a book from a sense of duty, we’re reinforcing the notion that reading is something you should do, but television (or, presumably, surfing the internet) is something that you want to do.” He makes the further point that Zuckerberg has fallen into the philistine idea that books should be relevant to your life.
I certainly agree with Walton, but I’m surprised that he doesn’t mention that Goodreads is owned by Facebook. All the more reason for Zuckerberg to promote reading. And I agree that it’s good for us to expand our intellectual horizons by reading something entirely new to us. My wife recently finished reading Do No Harm, a book by neurosurgeon Henry Marsh about his life and practice. She recommends it, and since I know nothing about the subject, it’s at the top of my To Read list.