The Sustained Train of Thought of One Person Speaking to Another

The Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, weighed in recently on a Newsweek poll about the future of reading. As the administrator of the Library of Congress, Billington is uniquely situated to survey the state of the book.

While the survey included neither independent booksellers nor non-industry folk, the brief piece is worth reading. But Billington gives a compelling definition of the book.

Here’s what he had to say: The new immigrants don’t shoot the old inhabitants when they come in. One technology tends to supplement rather than supplant. How you read is not as important as: will you read? And will you read something that’s a book—the sustained train of thought of one person speaking to another? Search techniques are embedded in e-books that invite people to dabble rather than follow a full train of thought. This is part of a general cultural problem.

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