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Man Booker chaired by the coolest woman in the world, and saving every book ever published.

August 1, 2011

Dame Stella Remington, looking all spooky, but really, worried about Twitter.

Before today I’d never heard of Stella Rimington, but clearly she’s the coolest woman alive, for three reasons: She’s a former director of MI5. She heads up this year’s Man Booker Prize jury. And she warns that Twitter and other electronic diversions are training children not to read.

For a full list of summer programs offered by the Florida Center for the Literary Arts, visit the website at flcenterlitarts.com.

Of course, if you’re British, then that’s Dame Stella Rimington to you, an honorific equivalent to “Sir.” As an American I trample titles beneath my feet — but that doesn’t mean I can’t be impressed by the career that earned it. M15! Judy Dench will have to play her in the movie!

Today, though, I’m more interested in Rimington’s remarks, made when she unveiled the Man Booker long list of 13 novels last week, about the harmful effects of digital media.

“I think much of the Twittering and emailing and texting and all that sort of stuff that children go in for now may be taking their eyes off reading fiction,” Rimington said. “When I was young we read more than the average child reads now.”

Rimington’s remarks strike me as especially perceptive, as I’ve been warning about the danger posed to literature by electronic media for years now. But I part company when she says teachers must find ways to instill a love of reading in children. That’s a job best done by parents.

And my hackles rise at Rimington’s suggestion that Kindle and other electronic reading devices “could help turn the tide.” Remember, Alfred Nobel thought his invention of dynamite would bring peace to the world. Electronic devices make for shallower reading experience, and their popularity bespeaks a love not of reading but of new gadgetry. Eventually gadget worship will lead away from reading altogether.

That’s why Internet pioneer Bruster Kahle’s plan to store a copy of every book ever published, according to the Associated Press., may be the single most important project on Earth right now.

Kahle, who founded the nonprofit Internet Archive in 1996 to save every web page ever posted (in the name of God, why?!?), is an MIT-trained computer scientists, entrepreneur, and, evidently, a world-class hoarder.

“There is always going to be a role for books,” says Kahle, who so far has squirreled away half a million books in climate-controlled storage units. “We want to see books live forever.”

Actually Kahle’s goal is a little more realistic than every book every published: He’d like to store the nice round number of 10 million. So far, the titles range from Moby Dick to The Complete Basic Book of Home Decorating and Costa Rica for Dummies.

Why go to so much expense and trouble — most of the books are donated — when Google and other entities are feverishly working to digitize all human knowldge? Theoretically, within a few years you should be able to download from the Meganet every book ever written.

“The dedicated idea is to have the physical safety for these physical materials for the long haul, and then have the digital versions accessible to the world,” Kahle said.

Ah. Cool. That means after the Double-E Apocalypse, a twin environmental and economic collapse, the survivors can dig up Kahle’s troves of books and not have to start over from scratch in the business of building and destroying the world all over again. And reading Agatha Christie by firelight will help pass those long winter nights in the cave.

Meanwhile, for those of us still devoted to the good ol’ codex, and the reading of printed books, the Guardian has taken it upon its august self to inform us as to the 100 greatest nonfiction books…in history? Available in England? That its staff has actually read?

I dunno, but claims of comprehensiveness aside, it’s not a bad list. If you enjoy nonfiction, and I do, it’s a good place for recommendations of books you may have overlooked.

And yes, I know that Judy Dench heads up MI6 in the Bond movies, but still, MI5 is bloody impressive. Way to go, Stella, you dame you.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 1, 2011 3:53 pm

    <iM15! Judy Dench will have to play her in the movie!

    Dame Judi DID play her in the last two Bond movies, I believe. With the same haircut in fact.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      August 1, 2011 9:01 pm

      Hahaha. Good one, PJ.

  2. August 2, 2011 8:38 pm

    See, Chauncey, there’s still reason to hope after all. Bless that dame, bless em all.

  3. August 3, 2011 8:29 am

    Chauncey Mabe you amuse me! I guess laughter is better than tears.

    I agree, the love of books is best instilled by parents, but what about children who have parents who don’t have a love of reading? Don’t care or don’t know better? I think it’s not bad for teachers to attempt as well. So often though, reading books for an assignment comes with all these negative attachments that make people not want to read for pleasure.

    Have you seen these kindle commercials? I watch tv on my computer, mainly hulu, so my variety of commercials is a little different than regular tv commercials. There’s a man and a woman and apparently he’s all into the kindle and she’s about the love of books and says stuff about the smell of a book, and holding it in your hand, and that she can read it in the sun, and he refutes her with things like well my screen is so cool there is no glare. She gives one last attempt with her saying she can fold down the page to save her spot and he says well mine saves it for me, and then that’s it! She’s convinced, she takes the kindle from him and starts reading. Traitor. Dumb and annoying.

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