Ode to the Written Word
by: Tristan Risk "Little Miss Risk"
There is a strangeness in the air these days. I notice it when I sit waiting for a bus or train, and I notice it when procuring coffee from the shops. While it's become more prolific in recent years, I am of the generation (not to date myself, because I prefer everyone to think of me as timeless) that saw the Rise Of The Machines. Where once people on the bus would jostle on another for space when reading the newspaper or a novel, they now stand elbow to elbow with devices raised in one hand while the other ponderously scrolls through newsfeed and searches their surrounding for hidden Pokemon. Display screens light up their faces with an eerie glow as they work to disconnect themselves for their immediate environments into mobile escapism. It is a rarity that you see people holding newspapers, magazines or paperbacks open in their hands as you do now handheld devices and tablets, our headphones plugged into the jack, a technological intercourse, where we gave lovingling into our flatscreen and stroke them with all the fondness and intimacy of a lover. While it's weird, this isn't anything new. Humans have been seeking ways to keep their solitude within the herd as soon as high density populations became a thing for our species. We willingly cram ourselves into spaces jam packed with each other, only to try and ignore one another to the best of our abilities. We divided a caste system to help further divide and segregate ourselves. It's an odd habit we humans have, and yet one that is so ingrained into our behaviour. I can't really call to mind any other species that wants you to at once notice them and be invisible at the same time. Such is the case of poisonous butterflies. They scream, "LOOK AT ME, BUT DON’T TOUCH ME!" with their bright colours. Same thing for the blue-ringed octopus or the poison dart frog. Our universal 'don't touch/talk to me' was once just a book in lap, and now we've graduated with headphones plugged in and staring at a screen. But with the advent of smart technology from printed page, it's been a palatable shift that I, have personally, witnessed. And nothing weirds you out more than watching a digital revolution pass by right under one's own nose. It definitely makes you feel old beyond your years, and in my own case struggling with the big issues... like should I invest the energy into learning how to use SnapChat, or walking half a kilometre to hit up that Pokestop.
What I notice, and I'm sure you do too, is the absence of books. I'm a reader, and always have been. I was raised by a tribe of hungry bookworms, for whom and new novel was savagely devoured within hours. It usually would make the circuit of our whole clan within the space of two weeks. I was on a first name basis with the librarian and lady at the bookstore growing up. As a child, I'd clamour for printed page over toys and dolls. So you get the idea now, that I am a fan of books as well as reading. I love books. It's pained me with every subsequent move I've made as an adult, the main casualties I've wound up shedding ballast with has been record albums and books. This has reached such an extent, that my lover has seen me, slightly intoxicated after a night out, cradling my Anne McCaffery's and my Minette Walters books to my breastbone and whispering in my best Never-ending Story voice, a sotto, "This is all that remains of my vast kingdom..." But it's not just my 'vast kingdom' that is shrinking... part of my problem with books being slowly squeezed out is literacy along with it. I had had this ridiculous idea that with the advent of the Internet and smart phone technology, that maybe, just maybe, the upside to this is that there would be an increase in literacy rates in people. However, just a quick jaunt to any comments column on any news forum will quickly illustrate that this is not so. Now the semi-literate and the ignorant are free to spew narrow-minded hate with no social repercussions aside from the odd online shaming that might have a slight impact on their real life. I daresay one of my favourite features about books, upon reflection, is that there is no comments section at the end of it.
However, don't take this from me to be the dearth knell of printed page. I don't think that books will ever go out of style altogether. There is far too much for them in terms of convenience (never needs charging), affordability, and even sharing. File sharing is frowned upon but libraries and book swapping is highly encouraged and does more for the other than it would a musician having his music passed around like a joint at an ICP show. But I want to get people excited for books for the sake of books again.
As we all know, sex sells. We also know YouTube is a force to be reckoned with. If you are like me, you've been to more than one social gathering at someone's house that turned into a YouTube party in the kitchen. Watching videos on demand whether it be on the aforementioned YouTube or Netflix, we know that we, as humans, are glued to our moving pictures. Few things hijack a party like kitten videos on a phone while restocking the snacks at a social gathering. Because you are preceptive and intelligent, you'll realize that I brought up this point with books in mind. How do I marry the two?
In the spirit of sharing things I enjoyed from my childhood with people in contemporary times, I have devised an idea for storytelling. Nothing pleased me more when I was little than having stories read to
me. As an adult in my first touring incarnation, we'd put on books on tape to help pass the long night drives. It was akin to listening to old radio plays that allowed you to use your imagination to shape the stories being told. But I'm very much aware that most people like visuals to their background noise, and it's in this way that I'm hoping to rekindle people's love affair with literacy again...
There is a live movement, started in New York City called Naked Girls Reading. It's pretty much what it sounds like - a woman, in a state of undress, reads passages from books in bars and clubs. I want to bring this to the internet, and who am I kidding, this likely probably already exists, a series of videos wherein I start, garbed in some fine Parisian lingerie, and read chapter by chapter a classic, all while shedding a layer by the end of each chapter. The idea being to engage people with an interest in literary. Putting the 'racy' in 'literacy' one might say. It's a gambit, but I felt like even just concentrating on classic horror, of which we are familiar with the plots but not the stories themselves, and sharing them with our digital audiences might be the order of the day. Turning pages and piquing interests. Saving literacy - one reveal at a time.