The Joy of E-Lit
I spend so much of the day in front of a computer, I have to ask myself why I'm so preoccupied with telling you about books, the kind one cradles in one's palms, like an infant, and not the lit to which I'm privy daily on the Internet.
I'm a child of hands-on lit, as opposed to the kind you access on Kindle and other wireless reading devices. But, I realize, I'm always reviewing lit, in a way, posting links on Facebook and Twitter, texting everybody about my latest and best Internet finds. Not a day goes by that I don't post at least a handful of links to something that in the moment feels like the most amazing new discovery. The best E-lit is fresh and timely.
On my fave e-lit list this week is a stunning review by Charles McNulty, the L.A. Times theater critic, of Dream of Life, Steven Sebring's 2008 film about avant garde poet/rocker Patti Smith. McNulty's understanding of Smith, her journey and 1960s New York was so in-depth, astute and sensitive, I simply had to "comment." I'm ashamed to admit that before reading the byline I assumed the writer was a woman.
But hey. On the Internet, it's always more about What I read than Who wrote it.
I read a handful of books a week, and literally dozens of articles a day, and scan dozens a day, and you can bet this wouldn't be without the props of a computer or laptop. Haven't experts already proven the Internet improves reading ability?
It's not just cool articles I pore over, but helpful, inspiring blogs, many on social media. I'm fascinated by the increasingly abbreviated language spawned by social media networking, and equally with the role that youth plays in evolving our language and attraction to things techie. Reading my niece's facebook posts, I note that letters can be used like art, and rarely used keys such as * can carry a host of meanings. You can always count on kids to create fresh values.
Thanks to our Blackberries and computers we can speak economically about just about anything. Or we can go on about it. Who's to stop us? The electronic rant is the new silent song of the masses, the deliverance of the individual from the shackles of nine-to-five, and just about any kind of oppression -- momentary, illusionary or real.
Our language is increasingly abbreviated, symbolic. Beyond math and the alphabet. What do all these conflagrations of meek, rarely used keys combined with ordinary expressions mean to our styles of evolving communication? What do they mean to kids, and to our future? How will they impact how we speak and communicate tomorrow?
I'm a fan of The New Yorker. I love a long read in a chaise lounge under the sun or the dim light of a reading lamp in the wee hours. I cherish stories that have arcs and characters and take a while to read and digest. But I also know that anything as charged as the coils of tweets going out all over the Internet universe have something vital to say about who we are and how we live. Studying them is a revelation about how fast our culture changes, and also about our illusions of change.
New styles of communication seem as easy to learn and enjoy as breakfast cereal for the kids who conjure them as they go along. Yesterday's language is, well, just that. Minimalism plus a jazz twist, a dadaist urge to upturn what came before is what I see happening now -- text novels, tweeting can be performance art in sound bites. They can also be plagiaristic, meta-fiction, forgettable. But they have acquired the power to arouse us, our interests, curiosity, thought and ire -- often for justifiable causes. And for this, if nothing else, we must thank them.