Why Books Are More Important Than Ever

We live in a day and age where the evolution of language and words is driven more by social media than books and novels. As both a Tweeter and a lover of literature old and new, I have mixed feelings about this trend. There is something about the speed of social media which alarms me. Consider this: Edgar Poe, who created the thriller, died broke and without any acclaim, and yet his works are now considered to be masterpieces. Contrast this to the blitzkrieg world of social media where someone who uploads a cat video can become an icon in a single day--or less.




Good or bad? Probably both, but allow me to point out the latter. Poe had substance. Sometimes it takes time for substance to be appreciated. In Poe's case, a hundred years. It takes deep substance to endure a 100 years. Do you think a glitzy cat video has that kind of staying power? Or do you--like me--think it will be forgotten in ten minutes, to be replaced by a meme featuring an aardvark?

The point I am trying to make is that there is a danger here: A very real danger. Please don't get the idea that I am one of those people, you know the kind that think Facebook and Twitter are the ruination of the world. Because I am not, and I believe that Facebook, Twitter, and social media have many upsides and are, in general, wonderful tools of expression, language, and connectivity. But--like most things--social media has had some unforeseen side effects, side effects which are changing the way we think, the way we speak, and the way we act. 



There is a stress to social media, an urgency, that seeps into the language. I mean, when you are racing to be the first person to post or tweet something, you keep it short and simple. And because ur doing this again and again, u start using the same abbreviations again and again and eventually u use the abbreviation all the time and evolution has occurred. But worse than the shortened words, it's the shortened writing structure and thought process that worry me the most, the idea that if it can't be said in 140 characters it isn't worth saying.

As I have stated before, the 140 character limit teaches us to be concise and to the point (and man did I need the helpbut there is still plenty of occasion: to be detailed; to expound; to have layers of meaning; to be rich and complex. And that, my friends, is why we need books and novels more than ever. Social media is not going away--nor should it--but it needs a counterbalance. Twitter is fast and immediate; the novel is slow and inexorable. (Can you hear Ruth, my editor, yelling; Not that slow, Peter! Speed it up, Peter!) Twitter is trendy; the novel goes against the grain. Twitter is the preferred medium of the conformist; the contrarian favors the novel. 
 



As a case in point, think about the reaction to the publishing of my favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird, in Monroeville, Alabama, in 1961. Do you think #ToKillaMockingbird was trending? How many Retweets and Favorites do you think Harper Lee would have scored? But more to the point I am making, do you think she would have cared?

I know what you are thinking; clearly, I have forgotten about the crucial role social media played in the Arab Spring uprisings of 2010. Isn't this the same kind of social change that To Kill a Mockingbird created in the United States? But the answer to that question is more chum in the shark-infested waters of social media (Ruth would derive great pleasure from deleting that sentence if she were editing this post! But she's not, so it stays.) Yes, Twitter in particular and social media in general were the catalysts of the Arab Spring, but where is the Arab Spring now???? It goes back to the staying power I alluded to earlier with Poe. Twitter helped ignite the unrest that had been building for years throughout the Arab world, but it happened too quick, before any kind of lasting democratic infrastructure could be thought of, much less built. And so a chill settled over the Arab Spring, a chill that has lasted much longer than the brief warm spell which preceded it.



Let's go back to 1966, and the reaction to #ToKillaMockingbird in Virginia.  "Believing its contents to be "immoral," the Hanover County School Board in Virginia decided to remove all copies of Harper Lee's classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, from the county's school libraries." I picked this one example--of many--because it makes several points for me (and isn't that why everybody loves quotes?) For one, five years after To Kill a Mockingbird was published, people were not only still talking about the novel they were filing law suits to remove it from libraries. The depth and complexity of novels lends them to slow and thoughtful digest, which in turn leads to lasting and meaningful change. Like Twitter and the Arab Spring, To Kill a Mockingbird was a catalyst for change in the Deep South, but in this case the change--though slower in coming--was enduring. The novel, at it's best, is timeless and enduring--and we need more of that in this age of transience.


There has never been a better vehicle for the contrarian than the novel. Without doubt, the contrarian can tweet, but what traction can be gained from a media that is based on trends and popularity? And we need the contrarian, now, more than ever. Don't think so? What about Global Warning, the rise of domestic terrorism, a resurgent and cantankerous Russia, our failing public schools, the healthcare crisis? But I don't mean to pick on Twitter (and make sure to follow me at @phogenkampVT). I mean to remind people of the importance of the novel, of non-fiction, of long form journalism, of poetry, and of anything with depth and complexity in this day and age of info-bytes, quick take-home points, and all other things that are superficial and ultra-simplified. 

Why does it matter
I worry that our national attention span has grown so short that we can't focus long enough to even identify--much less address--the pressing issues of our times. Jimmy Carter warned of a "health care crisis" in 1976, and yet forty-five years later we are closer than ever before to a complete dissolution of our health-care system. And I realize that there are other factors--partisan politics and the rise of lobbyism in particular--at play here, but don't discount the effect of our national attention deficit disorder either. In 2014 we face problems that are deeper and more complex than any encountered in the preceding two millennia; it's time we train ourselves to meet these problems



Am I saying that sitting down to The Kite Runner is the best way to resolve Global Warming, that cracking open Cold Mountain will lead to better schools? Yes, that's what I am saying. (Heh, I am Jesuit-educated, what did you expect?


The problem, of course, is that it's a lot easier to whip off a quick tweet about the #goldenglobes than it is to construct a 500,000 character work that is deep and rich and complex and permanent.

But it has never been more important. 

Make sure to follow the blog, or click on this link, Peter's Author Website, to check out my website. Please enter your e-mail when prompted to join my mailing list as well. If you would like to read one of my books (or gift one to a friend) click on the link to Peter's Amazon Page and you can order them right from there. And, as always, thanks for your support.

Cheers, peter




Peter Hogenkamp is a practicing physician, public speaker and author of fiction
living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter’s writing credits include The Intern (TouchPoint Press, April, 2020); The Vatican Conspiracy (Bookouture/HachetteUK, October, 2020), and The Vatican Secret(Bookouture/HachetteUK, April 2021.) He can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, Peter Hogenkamp Writes where he writes about most anything. Peter is the creator, producer and host of Your Health Matters, a health information program, which airs on cable television, streams on YouTube and sounds off on podcast. Peter was a finalist for the prestigious 2019 Killer Nashville Claymore Award as well as a top finalist for the 2020 Vermont Writer’s Prize. He tweets—against the wishes of his wife, four children and feisty Cairn Terrier, Hermione—at @phogenkampvt. He can be reached at his FaceBook Page and at His e-mail

Comments

  1. I am definitely a contrarian I have filled 2 crates of books I have finished and am working on the third. I still prefer paper not electronic books. I think profound thinking and ideas come from widely read books. My family are all avid readers and always amaze me with their ideas and intelligience. We need more readers in this country.

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  2. I couldn’t agree with you more.

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  3. Twitter has made it posible for millions to blurt out emotional reactions to the posts of others before they have had time to think, and then spread them to a wide audience. It's become a haven for propagandists of all stripes. Like all tools, it can be used for good or evil. But it's useful to writers and other creators for getting the word out about new work and networking with other creators. It also takes up time we could be reading.

    I agree that the media and social media are training our brains away from complex thought. Those of us who have written or read enough promotional materials find ourselves analyzing them in our heads while commercials interrupt the programs we may be watching. Not my husband. He's usally one who reads and thinks deeply, but he still believes the right pill will improve his memory. He adds it to the three he already takes.

    In the fifty years before we got a TV, he read mostly nonfiction in his free time, though he made an exception for Tolkien and Clancy. Now the TV is on several hours most days and he hardly picks up a book. I tell him it would do more for his brain than all the pills he takes. He's 82 and his brain is slowing down. Fortunately he likes to talk more than write and he doesn't do anything online.

    We will never solve the world's problems by having our discussions in tweets and soundbytes or by listening to commentators argue until time for the next commercial break. I write on Medium because it allows those with diverse points of view to use as many words as they need to present their thoughts and it allows me as much time as I need to absorb them. Because the audience is wider there than most bloggers are able to attract, many fruitful discussions take place before a wide audience.

    I hope this gets to you. For some reason Edge won't let me select a Googe account to post under and there's no other alternative. I write on Medium as barbsbooks.

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  4. This reason is perhaps the most important one. If any company or organization is strict with its no-drug policy, it will reject prospective employees or even fire an employee who fails to pass the drug test. A: If you have consumed weed regularly in the past few weeks, no method can guarantee that you will pass a drug test. However, the following steps may help. Do not consume any more weed between now and your scheduled test. Drink plenty of water and start with natural diuretics to flush your system thoroughly. Then, opt for a detox program or a detox drink to mask THC or flush down all the toxins from your system. Follow our guidance and instructions given on the packagings of detox supplements and hope for the best results. A: Being highly fat-soluble, the remnants of weed tend to accumulate in your fat cells, at least before it is broken down and released into the bloodstream. So, you will have a higher tendency to store THC if you are overweight or have a higher BMI and a sedentary lifestyle. A: The time for which THC is stored in a body depends on several factors like strength of the weed, the method by which the weed is consumed (both of these criteria decide its potency), and your frequency of weed use. Regular smoking results in the accumulation of weed in your system, making it stay longer. You cannot send a sample taken at home. A urine test that was taken several hours ago would no longer be at the proper temperature for testing. Another factor to keep in mind is that certain employers demand that you have the urine sample when being supervised. This effectively removes the possibility of urine swapping. If anyone has used alcohol, opiates, opioids, or methamphetamines, urine samples will show it. The most effective form of drug test is a blood test, but it is still the most invasive. A certified healthcare practitioner who knows how to draw blood must administer a blood test. After that, they analyze the blood sample in a lab.

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