There is something irksome about a recent story in the New York Times that declared that "E-Books Make Readers Feel Less Isolated". Being a bookworm is uncool, the story alleges, but carrying around an e-reader makes reading seem chic.
Strangers constantly ask about it, Michael Hughes, a communications associate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said of his iPad, which he uses to read a mix of novels and nonfiction. Its almost like having a new baby.
The problem here is not with the e-book. I'm in favour of any mode of literature delivery. If the only way I could consume Tolstoy was by having a trail of ants marching across my desk, each hoisting a piece of rice inscribed with the relevant word, that would be grand. Also, amazing. Also, impractical. Rather, I'm intrigued by the notion that e-readers make reading less antisocial. Doesn't reading necessitate not socialising? Indeed, isn't that part of the appeal?
I was always under the impression that books served a dual purpose: not only do they offer a world to enter, but also they offer an affordable means of escape from the world we're in. What a nice cloak a book can be on the subway or the train, or while sitting at a bar, enjoying the buzz of humanity while absorbed in something else. I'm reminded of Anne Tyler's "The Accidental Tourist", in which books are recommended as props for travellers who would rather avoid idle chatter with strangers.
Jonathan Franzen had something powerful to say about this in Lev Grossman's cover story about him in Time. Though few would hold Mr Franzen up as a beacon of joyful, social living (the man describes writing as "miserable work" and counts bird-watching as one of his few indulgences), he is convincing in his case for the importance of the sustained concentration demanded by reading.
"We are so distracted by and engulfed by the technologies we've created, and by the constant barrage of so-called information that comes our way, that more than ever to immerse yourself in an involving book seems socially useful... The place of stillness that you have to go to to write, but also to read seriously, is the point where you can actually make responsible decisions, where you can actually engage productively with an otherwise scary and unmanageable world."
Books require a certain quiet, a solitude that is all the more valuable for the way it can be achieved in public. The constant barrage of information Mr Franzen describes makes the insularity of a good book all the more valuable, like an antidote.
Still, few may be inspired to follow Mr Franzen's approach for keeping the siren song of the internet at bay. "What you have to do," he explained, "is you plug in an Ethernet cable with superglue, and then you saw off the little head of it."
Q.1 According to the passage, which of the following cannot be inferred as a role/function of books?
A) Providing solitude even in the middle of a crowd.
B) Allowing an individual to escape the world.
C) Providing access to information and ideas.
D) Creating a space for introspection and engagement with the world.
Q.2 Why does the author mention the instance of reading Tolstoy through a trail of ants?
A) To highlight the fact that the mode of delivery of literature is not important.
B) To prove that e-books can be equally effective as a mode of literature delivery.
C) To demonstrate an impractical mode of literature delivery.
D) To give an example of a mode of literature delivery that the author considers grand.
Q.3 Which one of these best expresses the central theme of the passage?
A) The impact of technological innovations on reading.
B) New forms of reading books.
C) The nature of the process of reading.
D) The importance of reading.
Q.4 The author calls a good book, an antidote. What is it an antidote to?
A) Distracting technology
B) Too much information
C) The public