losing our minds

kurt_vonnegut_usairways_magazine_photo

I like reading books, but I don’t do it a lot (it’s the time thing).

When it comes to book reading for my own entertainment, I am not a huge novel fan (except when someone’s paying my to produce an audio book of their novel…then I jump in feet first!) Unless the writing or a character really grabs me very early on, I lose interest.

I’m more of a biography guy. Reading about the lives of people whom I find interesting is more entertaining to me. I also enjoy certain business books as well.

But like many high schools students, I had to read the late Kurt Vonnegut, specifically Slaughterhouse-Five. I didn’t like the book and thought the story poorly told (but he’s sold more than a few copies so what do I know?). Part of the process of learning in school is accumulating a list of likes and don’t likes so I slogged through it.

And I get that Vonnegut is talented, sharp and witty. And through some of his interviews, he also struck my as a bit of a pain in the ass (something I have never been accused of being!;)

But courtesy of Tim Ferris’ blog today, I had the chance to read part of Vonnegut’s final interview (originally in US Airways Magazine of all places…and who knew they bothered to put that mostly advertorial rag on line?)

In that interview, Vonnegut brilliantly summarized a thought I have had for sometime regarding our society’s scary and growing dependence on the electronic media (of which, I admit, I help foster with my business). What made his quote brilliant to me was that he said it and I only thought it.

If you want people to know you’re brilliant, you’ve got to show them the evidence. Here’s Vonnegut’s Exhibit A:

Q: We live in a very visual world today. Do words have any power left?

Vonnegut: I was at a symposium some years back with my friends Joseph Heller and William Styron, both dead now, and we were talking about the death of the novel and the death of poetry, and Styron pointed out that the novel has always been an elitist art form. It’s an art form for very few people, because only a few can read very well. I’ve said that to open a novel is to arrive in a music hall and be handed a viola. You have to perform. [Laughs.] To stare at horizontal lines of phonetic symbols and Arabic numbers and to be able to put a show on in your head, it requires the reader to perform. If you can do it, you can go whaling in the South Pacific with Herman Melville, or you can watch Madame Bovary make a mess of her life in Paris. With pictures and movies, all you have to do is sit there and look at them and it happens to you.

Other than soap and water, we shouldn’t let other things we experience , like electronic communication, simply wash over us. Our brains and those of our children become sedentary and nothing good can come from that.

We shouldn’t let things just “happen” to us. We’ve been given the gift of thoughtful participation and I think we all should use it alot more!

Make it a novel or a biography, but read a book…right after you’re done reading with your children.

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