Nora Ephron wrote, ““Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real.”
Prompt: “On Reading”
My father read the Wisconsin State Journal the way a priest said the Latin Mass–everything at the same time in the same place in the same way. The priest had an altar, water and wine, and scripture; my father had the kitchen table, coffee, and the daily newspaper.
Dad woke in the morning, made the coffee, retrieved the newspaper lit a cigarette, and read the sports and national news sections of the paper. When Dad’s first cup of coffee and two cigarettes had lived their lives, he went to work.
At 11:10 in the morning every day, Dad reappeared in the kitchen, home for his lunch hour. He greeted Mom; exchanged news about friends; and ate lunch together. At 11:30 the lunch hour divided itself, Mom at the sink, washing the dishes from breakfast and lunch, Dad reading the comics in the newspaper and the state news.
By the end of lunch, the only unread portion of the paper was a corner devoted to “Jacoby on Bridge. ” That section waited until after dinner when Dad–like the priest turning to the congregationj to intone, Ite, missa est, go forth, the mass has ended–ended the the day by studying Jacoby’s bridge hands.
The Latin Mass endured for centuries in small parish churches, in daunting catherdrals, in cramped hospital chapels, and in open fields at festival times; and I thought the reading of newspapers in Dad’s near-ritual fashion would be equally enduring. But not so. Now, in coffee shops, bus stations, and in my own kitchen, the newspaper has become as archaic as the Latin Mass.
But content is the point, right? What difference does it make if the content appears on a screen or on the printed page? Perhaps the difference is crucial, for the newspaper ritual was an experience distinct and in its own fashion uniterrupted which I don’t think exists on a phone, tablet, or laptop where multiple channels are competing for attention; and while I may begin by reading news of Russian-election-tampering, halfway through I leave the news story and check Trump’s latest tweet which, in turn, takes me to the twitter account of another celebrity and from there to the accounts of two friends. That deviation is interrupted by two emails that arrive and, in their turn, three texts. My return to the news story on Trump is desultory and has lost its focus.
The reading of the newspaper was a distinct experience–separate, defined, and self-contained. Reading news on-line is a multi-channel experience, like watching a movie not in a theatre but in short clips, throughout the day, the movie broken into remotely coherent pieces unlike my father’s reading of the paper in which each stage of his reading was defined, each stage an entity unto itself. But experiencing content in pieces leeches out the cumulative effect. It becomes a different experience, as if a multi-course dinner has been supplanted by extended snacking–the nutrients are the same but the experience is profoundly different.