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What Books Can Do

I'm writing this (and will post it) on a plane. Virgin America now has wi-fi on flights. I can't imagine other airlines won't soon follow.

Virgin offers more entertainment options than a Republican convention whorehouse: video, music, foreign films, games, etc. It's here that one really feels the squeeze against the book in modern culture. There's so much to do! Would you rather read Freedom or play Donkey Kong?

A lot of people, it turns out, choose books over Mario and his weird task. I see seven book-readers (one electronic) among the 12 people in my eye-line.

Books offer more than other things can: more senses sensed, more analysis, more of what it means to be a walking, thinking animal. My friend David Lipsky (Absolutely American, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself) has a good point about this, about books vs. all entertainment comers. David teaches with me at NYU, as part of an amazing faculty (e.g. E. L. Doctorow, Zadie Smith, Junot Díaz, and Jonathan Safran Foer.

David says that anyone who tries to teach you that writing is about "showing not telling" is gunning for you to fail. The world, as David formulates it, is showing constantly. It's a movie unreeling before your eyes. The thing that books can do, and that movies can't (or life, or video games), is to explain this show — to let you join with a powerful mind who's making sense of it. A good book can make you feel smarter. A TV show — and this is my favorite part of David's lesson — a good TV show can only leave you wanting to watch more TV.

People were upset over all the Franzen attention. But I think it's good for books, in toto. I mean, if everyone's reading a literary novel, and it's actually good, people who haven't read books in a while will say, "Oh, yeah — I like this; I can have fun and get something out of it." That why Franzen is the right guy for that slot. His books aren't difficult or boring, but they're not lightweight, either. It's the kind of thing that turns people to reading. How can that be bad?

÷ ÷ ÷

Darin Strauss is the author of the international bestseller Chang and Eng, the New York Times Notable Book The Real McCoy, and the national bestseller More Than It Hurts You. The recipient of a 2006 Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction writing, he teaches writing at New York University.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Chang and Eng Used Trade Paper $3.50

  2. More Than It Hurts You
    Used Hardcover $5.50
  3. Absolutely American: Four Years at... New Trade Paper $15.95
  4. Half a Life
    Used Hardcover $7.95
  5. Freedom: A Novel
    Used Hardcover $7.95
  6. Although of Course You End Up...
    New Trade Paper $16.99

Darin Strauss is the author of Half a Life

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