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TECH TALK: Leisure and Entertainment: Reading

December 5th, 2001 · No Comments

Reading (after Idling) is perhaps the most common of leisure-time activities. There’s plenty to read around us: newspapers, magazines of all flavours and for every niche, comics, books. The Internet now provides an almost infinite treasure trove of reading material which would previously have been almost impossible to access. Search engines and hyperlinks open up magical worlds of information – enough to idle away a few hours.

The actual act of Reading by itself has perhaps been least affected by technology amongst all the leisure activities. Other than the computer where now some of the reading is done, we still buy books. If anything, the ability to search for books by one’s favourite authors, order them online and have them delivered to the doorstep can actually increase the reading done. Holding the book or the paper in hand is still the preferred form for reading. Yes, there’s talk of Tablet PCs and e-books which can change how we read, but that still seems to be a a few years away.

Reading as a leisure activity is not threatened. There’s still nothing to beat reading a timeless PG Wodehouse or Agatha Christie. Perhaps, the best thing to have happened in recent times has been the success of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The unprecedented sales of the books (over 100 million) and now the movie has re-ignited interest in Reading worldwide. The ultimate Reading odyssey for me: JRR Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”. (The first movie in the trilogy is being released in the US in December). Writes Brian Carney in a recent article entitled “The Battle of the Books” in the Wall Street Journal:

Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins, Tolkien’s protagonist, will soon battle not only evil but also each other for the hearts and minds of a generation. If there is any justice in the world, Frodo should win.

Yes, Tolkien’s is the better story, but he deserves the laurel for another reason: He conceived of fantasy writing as a medium for moral thought experiments. “Harry Potter” may be entertaining, imaginative and wry. But it isn’t challenging. Morally speaking, Harry’s magical world is trite.

“Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone,” as the book was called in Britain — the U.S. marketers substituted “Sorcerer’s Stone” in the title — is a classic struggle of Good vs. Evil.Harry is good because he’s nice, and we can’t help sympathizing with him, since Voldemort killed his parents and all. This is very straightforward stuff, and there’s little to argue with in it. But there’s also little to argue for.

Tolkien delves deeper.Tolkien is doubtful of man’s ability to resist the temptation of absolute power. That is one of the great themes of the bookIn Tolkien’s world the temptation of evil is one that all, or nearly all, of his characters must confront. The argument of Tolkien’s tale — controversial, to be sure — is that, while intentions matter, the way we act is far more important than why we act. His story, for all its narrative brio, presents a serious rebuttal to the idea that good ends justify using evil means.

Don’t you feel like dropping everything and Reading The Book?

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