The Thinking 


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Culture and the Downloadable Novel

November 1, 2012


JOHN HARRIS, editor of Praesidium and executive director of the Center for Literate Values, writes:

I happened upon Alexis de Tocqueville’s remarks about literary taste in American democracy recently. Dense irony swirled around the discovery of his words about the literary industry. He wrote:

The ever-growing crowd of readers and the continual need they have of the new assure the sale of a book that they scarcely esteem.

My Kindle allowed me to have a free copy of Tocqueville’s classic, in the first place … but I have long since learned that the price of such free stuff is a gaudy billboard staring me in the face every time I reach for my palm-held library. Last week, some TV serial titled “Nashville” hounded me. This week it’s a novel called Dawn which claims to be “Book One of the Xenogenesis Trilogy.” Has the author, then, already contracted to produce two more tomes … or is this glorious triad being republished for Kindle-owners after an initial triumph?  Or, does it even matter?  Isn’t everything a trilogy now?  Does the sort of person who reads these things actually know what a trilogy is, any more than he or she is alert to the literal absurdity behind the word “xenogenesis”?

Tocqueville foresaw that, like everything else in America, creative literature would be driven by an insatiable thirst for novelty. Exoticism would be ground out without any consideration for plausibility. Read More »


By Book or by Crook

February 17, 2011


THOMAS F. BERTONNEAU writes in response to this entry on the future of the bookstore:

Books are not indestructible, but short of tossing them into a furnace or dropping them into an industrial shredder they are difficult to annihilate. Not so the electronic file. A single electromagnetic burst over the North American continent could erase every unprotected electronic file on every personal computer in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. It need not be from an enemy attack either – the sun can generate powerful magnetic bursts. A civilization that considers the book obsolete and plans to base its literacy on text-files stored on Kindle-type devices is tempting the nemesis of a blue screen and nothing to read and no possibility of reconstituting the tradition.  Read More »


The Demise of the Bookstore

February 17, 2011


HERE is an excellent piece by Albert Mohler reflecting on the future of bookstores. With the news that the Borders chain has filed for bankruptcy, the bookstore appears more threatened than ever as a cultural institution. Mohler explains why the bookstore can never be replaced by online retailers.

He writes:

The general wisdom seems to be that the bookstore will go the way of the record store and the video rental outlet. The bookstore may have been an important cultural asset in years past, many argue, but it has little place in a world of e-readers, online sales, and mega retailers like WalMart that deep-discount bestsellers. Read More »


Defending Literacy

May 19, 2010

Francesco Guardi's Venice Viewed from the Bacino

Francesco Guardi's Venice Viewed from the Bacino

IN ITS MISSION STATEMENT, the Center for Literate Values, which was recently vandalized by a computer hacker, states:

The literate individual is vanishing. We who teach have seen with our own eyes the decline of analytical finesse and expressiveness in our composition classes over the past two or three decades. We who have children have struggled to keep their moral acumen focused upon the small, persistent inner voice of conscience rather than upon what celebrities are doing or what passes for “cool” on Facebook. All of us have converged upon a basic realization, whether persuaded of it by theory or driven to it by hard experience: i.e., that the West has entered a post-literate stage. Read More »


More on the Post-literate Society

February 6, 2010


THOMAS F. BERTONNEAU takes up where he left off in his recent essay on the decline of literacy. He writes that “contemporary college students reject books and disdain reading:”       bigstockphoto_Red_flower_6588759[1]

I am not saying that today’s representative college student absolutely cannot do these things; I am saying that he wishes not to and that his disinclination stems from the fact that reading and writing are for him noticeably alien and difficult. His learning is not book learning. He resembles an oral person, as described by [Walter] Ong. Subordinate clauses, consequentiality, and logical analysis—these things arouse his suspicion and hostility.  

Hostility, not mere indifference, is the appropriate term. Unfortunately for many students, the written word is the basis of all higher education.

Read More »

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