A few weeks ago, I met up with a friend and former book clubber for a catch-up. At some point during the conversation, which inevitably turned to books, she told me I had to read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. She didn’t tell me what it was about, and I didn’t ask. She just said it was amazing and I had to read it. So, being the trusting type, I obediently went ahead and bought it.
I started The Goldfinch yesterday, still not knowing what it was going to be about, and was instantly hooked. It’s the kind of book that, although it’s full of description and could I suppose therefore be called wordy (it’s nearly 800 pages long), manages at the same time to move at a galloping pace and drag you along with it. My 50-minute commute last night felt more like 10 as I inhaled several chapters, and I couldn’t wait to get on the train this morning so I could carry on reading (yes really, fellow Southeastern commuters!).
I’m sure other book lovers can identify with the rush I get when I start reading a really good book. And not just book fans; I imagine it’s the same joy that movie buffs, wine connoisseurs and adrenaline junkies feel when they discover a new favourite or jump off a new building.
So I think that’s why an article I saw today on the Daily Mail website (I refuse to link to it, but if you’re really interested you can probably Google it easily enough) made me furious. Of course the Daily Mail always makes me furious, but you know what I mean. And I probably should be mad at the man in the story rather than shooting the messenger, but when the messenger is the DM, I think that’s ok.
Anyway, my taste in newspaper aside, the article was about Nicholas Negroponte, who reckons that within 30 years we’ll be able to ingest information with a pill. This will carry knowledge to our brains, thereby making learning redundant. The headline specifically referred to learning languages, which was bad enough – and not only because its loss would put me out of a job. But as I skimmed down the page in horrified amazement, I realised this idea also applies to literature. The quote, ‘You’re going to swallow a pill and know Shakespeare’ particularly sticks in my head.
I don’t know if this is ever actually going to happen, although apparently Mr Negroponte isn’t the only scientist to believe it. But if it does turn out to be possible, am I the only person who finds it incredibly depressing? I don’t read a book because I want to know how it ends. If that were the case, I’d just read a synopsis on Wikipedia. I read because I love reading – discovering new places, getting to know characters, learning about history, sharing the emotions or simply just enjoying the adventure.
And, incidentally, the same goes for languages – as much as I accept there are times when it would be nice to just know another language, personally (and professionally!) I believe half the fun is in the learning. The first time you speak to someone in your halting French, Spanish, whatever, and they understand you and reply, is the best feeling. And yes, you might make mistakes but isn’t that part of the journey? If nothing else, it’ll give you some good stories to tell. By learning languages, you can make friends, discover new places and have the satisfaction of knowing you did it all on your own, without taking any short cuts.
Like I said, I don’t know if this is ever going to happen, and if so, exactly what form it will take or who it’s intended for. I may be working myself into a tizz over nothing at all, and certainly I’m aware that basing any judgment on a story from such a notoriously unreliable source is probably unwise. But if this ‘knowledge pill’ ever does become reality, it’s safe to say I won’t be partaking. I like my knowledge earned, and my books unspoilt.
Now I have to put the toys back in my pram and get back to The Goldfinch. Thanks for listening 😉