Surfing Proust: Is nonfiction just easier to read?

A response to Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic Monthly article about the ways in which easy outside access to information might be changing (and weakening) the ways we think, remember, and process information. (Kevin Kelly had his own fascinating retort to Carr’s article here.)

When I think about it, my ability to “read deeply and without distraction” is not impaired at all when it comes to 9,000 word articles in Harper’s or The Atlantic on, say, trends in urban crime, thick with policy analysis and statistics, or for that matter, “Is Google Making us Stupid?” It’s just when I try to read Proust, or heaven forbid, JR by William Gaddis—a novel that I greatly anticipated reading, but which quickly became a coaster for the glass of water on my bedside table.

A more important question, I think, is why our brains now seem to better tolerate nonfiction. Regarding Proust in particular, Carr’s argument is, for me, especially ironic: The way that I have found to actually read those long complex sentences is, in fact, to skim them—to ride along on the surface from one detailed, beautiful image of village life to another, without trying to unpack them too literally or rationally.


from “Maybe Google Isn’t Making Us Stupid,” by Caroline Langston, Good Letters: The IMAGE Blog, 26 August 2008

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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