These days, people seem glued to their mobile phones, often at their peril. Books have lost their luster, one could argue.
There are many people, and I confess I am one, who sit on the couch and alternate between looking at their device and the television set. People have fallen prey to what I call the “Shiny Object Syndrome.”
Is Journalism Dead?
The rule of thumb in journalism is “If it Bleeds, it Leads.” This has led to a “Who can be the most outrageous?” mentality. It’s the world we live in. In a soundbite society, sensationalism sells. No wonder there is so much fake news. People’s attention spans have shortened. And their interest in checking sources is even less vigorous.
Books to the Rescue
Books were in the limelight last weekend as the Frankfurt Book Fair was held once again. It is the largest publishing event of the year and its attendees include nearly 300,000 visitors, 7,275 international exhibitors (from locations as diverse as Kazakhstan, Mauritius and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and 10,000 journalists, bloggers and influencers. The “Frankfurter Messe” (the book fair) originated (some say around 1478) not many years after the first book came off Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press in Mainz, a short volksmarch away.
Meanwhile, that same weekend, back in the good ole USA, Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, was banned because it “made people uncomfortable.” I couldn’t help wondering about the times we live in. “How can this book, or any book for that matter,” I pondered, “be censored in a free society?”
Mockingbird was trending on Twitter, so I followed the thread. Tweets appeared such as (from @michelledaviso6) “You know what makes me uncomfortable? Censorship. That’s what makes me uncomfortable. Say NO to book banning!” @jamilsmith tweeted “Teach only “comfortable” books about racism in America, and you get students raised to be comfortable with racism.” And @CharlesMBlow posted “Uncomfortable? Who said the job of great literature was to make you comfortable? The opposite is true…”
Why there is a book out there entitled The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and yet To Kill A Mockingbird is banned – is beyond me. Apparently, Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art …, has a good PR agent – but Harper Lee, who died last year, didn’t. Another book that has been condemned is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Even Dr. Seuss got thrown under the bus. It makes me wonder if Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood would air on television today.
Fortunately, there are still good books out there. And many of them can also be read. You might have to disguise them by reading it on a Kindle (if you insist) – or reading it at home – but there are nevertheless copies in circulation.
Many think the book is dead and that people are resigned to watching TV and checking social media. But the book will never die.
We live in an information explosion. So we get to pick and choose what we digest (unless you’re a student and you have to read something as exciting as Thus Spoke Zarathustra).
Perhaps the tweet I liked the best last weekend was “As an AP Lit teacher, I used to give the annual banned list to students. They made it a point of honor to read them to see for themselves.” This reminds me of the philosophy that there are three ways to get something done: 1) do it yourself, 2) hire somebody to do it for you, or 3) forbid your teenage child to do it.
So perhaps the banning will cause people to read more books – and seriously consider where we are as a society.
Now, if only they would ban Plutarch’s Lives.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Frank Felsburg is a ghostwriter of books, blog posts, white papers and web content. Recent projects include a stint for Forbes magazine on angel investing, as well as articles on commercial real estate and medical technology.