Having pledged not to blog about my book tour, I should blog about books — specifically, my book
. But this gives me pause. Aren't blogs the enemy of The Book? Instead of reading this right now, couldn't you be reading a book — ideally, one of my
books? And couldn't I be writing one instead of blogging about writing one?
Being an addictive sort, I have another concern. Is blogging a gateway drug? Once I'm hooked on short, evanescent dispatches, can a Twitter habit be far behind?
On the book tour I'm not blogging about, I took a break from the hard work of speaking to adoring readers to attend a friend's birthday party. Christina works at a New England athenaeum — essentially, a fancy old word for library that you don't often hear these days, outside of spelling bees (tip for students: Athena–eum). Christina doesn't just work at the Providence Athenaeum, she lives and breathes its antique air and regards 1838, the year of its opening, as the apex of human history.
A number of others at her birthday party also work at the athenaeum and nearby libraries. Most fear for their jobs because of budget cuts, Madoff-depleted donors, and the culture's current love affair with reading no more than 140 characters at a time. So this seemed the right place to pose the question I'd been chewing on.
Is blogging the enemy of The Book?
"No," Christina said. "It's the enemy of life."
She fingered her oval silver locket, which holds a picture of Edgar Allan Poe (and, I suspect, a lock of his hair). "I hate the meta-ness of everything, the constant reporting, the sense that everyone constantly has something interesting to say. What ever happened to reflection, or editing, or coming to an idea based on the accrual of information over time?"
I don't have any time, I reminded her. My blog post is due in an hour. As for editing, I have a distant "blogmaster" and the guidelines he emailed me, which mention the maximum number of pixels and bytes I should send but say nothing about words or content.
"Exactly," Christina said. As part of her rebellion against life lived online, she hosts salons at the Athenaeum modeled on similar gatherings in the 19th century. Each salon is arranged around a speaker or theme — often to do with 1838, such as a novel from that year where the plot turned on a dropped pocket handkerchief. Christina serves scones and sherry. Recording devices or props like Power-Point are forbidden.
"I want to recreate a space where people are actually together, practicing conversation with actual other people and not with avatars or on-line identities."
"So it's like a chat room," I suggested.
"It's precisely not a chat room," she snapped. "It's where you are not polishing your persona for Facebook. It's where you are who you are and your time is spent not on yourself only, but on other people in the room."
Like the birthday party we were at. Except I was blogging, at least in my head. I asked what she thought all this meant for books.
"We had a salon presenter last night who touched on that, Andrew Losowsky, a young British genius." He'd likened books to horses and sailboats. Once the fastest way to travel, they were superseded by cars and speed boats. But they didn't disappear. A ride on a horse, if speed is not your objective, is a pleasure unavailable to motorists. To sail is to have a calm and sensory pleasure that isn't offered by speed boats. The same would happen to books with the advent of digital reading.
"The things that make books uniquely pleasurable as objects — the heft, the smell of the paper, the beauty of the ink or the type, the pictures — will become emphasized and books will live on, in a different role than what we've been accustomed to," she said.
It was time for Christina to cut cake and open gifts, mostly antique china. "I forgot to mention," she sighed. "We're getting a blog at the Athenaeum. Our tech person is putting it together for the fall."
Until then, you can learn about the Providence Athenaeum and its programs at www.providenceathenaeum.org.