Reading or Not — and Where?

I was reading the editorial in the July/August issue of Orion Magazine, and wondering to myself how in the world I’d managed to miss it before.  It was the first time I’d picked up this issue, but I spend a few minutes at least every couple of days on the Orion website, yet I had managed to miss what I consider some pretty important comments on an issue that is of great importance to all of us big-brained apes.  So, I went to the site and, lo and behold, could not find the editorial.  I have no doubt that it’s there someplace, but it is by no means obvious (to me).  I never did find it, and I’m sure it would be missed by a casual browser.

That got me to thinking about how much we miss by confining our reading to items online, and neglecting the fine print media that are available at any newsstand or bookseller.  Sure, they cost quite a lot, but even the most expensive slick magazines cost about the same as a paperback book.  I won’t say that they necessarily have more to offer, but certainly as much.

The difference in a magazine and the publication’s website is continuity.  On a website — any website — we have to look for material.  We read a list, we look at and click links, we enter keywords and search, we click on attractive graphics.  None of these things bring content to our attention without some effort on our part.  In effect, if we don’t go looking for it, it isn’t there.

Contrast that with browsing through a magazine.  Let’s take Orion as an example, and briefly thumb through.  We find the aforementioned editorial.  Here’s a hand-drawn map of Prince of Wales Island, Southeast Alaska.  It catches my eye and I spend two or three minutes exploring a place I’d never heard of:Click for a closer look at a really cool place, obviously much-loved by the artist.

Next page is an essay by Derrick Jensen — a bit strident for my taste, but he makes some good points.  Wow!  What’s that?  A full-page drawing of an eel?  “New Zealand’s Maoris defend an extraordinary creature — and themselves”.  Have to come back to that one.  Here’s a poignant poem about the frogs of childhood and the toads of adulthood.  Skip a few pages.  Whoa!  A remarkable aerial photograph (?) drawing (?) of a — what is that?  Looks like a dam.  A dam big one, too.  That stops me for a while at a long article about the Colorado River.  A few more pages: an article about the ungrateful way we treat horses that can no longer bear the burdens we impose.  Here’s a page excerpt: “The Mundane Manifesto of science fiction might not sing, but Ed Abbey would approve.”  I’ve no idea what that’s about, but Ed’s m’ homie.  Have to read that one.

And so forth.

We miss these things when we surf, buying into quantity — perhaps even quality — but missing the way that one thing, thought, idea flows into another when we read a magazine, newspaper or book.  This cannot be good for us.  For one thing, it leads to flighty, superficial information, unsupported by anything but whatever further research the browser may feel inclined to pursue.  “Well, that’s my choice,” you may say, and you’re right.

But it’s also your loss.  And ours, if you are unable to contribute usefully to the discussion.

Got an opinion? Keep it clean. Don't ask open-ended questions, like "Does the Pope belong to a coven?" Make it pertinent.

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