What are you reading?
I ask about books in the time of “fake news” for the simple reason that real news and its long-form analysis require reflection and some concentration rather than quick witticisms and forgettable commentaries. Lately, I’ve sucked at paying attention. The dizzying speed at which everything must be done has led me to think that perhaps nothing is getting done. And this makes me cranky. I am only speeding through time and experiences, taking snippets here and there, but without giving due attention to things. The rabbit hole that is the internet is full of flashy discoveries that I am beginning to doubt because of algorithms that operate against my sense of wonder. I feel terrible to have a world view so limited and devoid of real difference.
Occupying a story is time-consuming and surprising. You sort of have a sense of what things are about, but a good writer will always turn your assumptions upside down and send you to places to have conversations with people you would never have met against the mundane backdrop of your life. We need stories — lots of them — to buoy also this sense of the human in others that we so quickly take for granted because the narratives of our feeds are so similar to how our own stories play in our heads. Where is the color? Where is the life?
The troubling news of Facebook being coopted by trolls and persons with ill intentions, often with power to wield and maintain, has also got me asking serious questions about freedom — and I don’t mean just the physical capacity to move but also, more importantly IMHO, the freedom to think for oneself. Accessing realities separate from my own is such a tiring task these days because while it is easy for me to move from community to community, the inner lives of people remain somewhat mysterious and the casual conversations reveal only so much.
When I think of freedom in this way, newspapers and newsfeeds are not my immediate source — and this has been my sense even prior to “fake news.” Novels, poems and essays are what I crave. I resist the temptation of “being informed” and the illusion of knowing everything in the here and now. And as depressed as I’ve been about the quality of thought we have to pass off as our current political discourse, I’ve realized that the antidote to “fake news” and its effects is really a certain slowness and a fidelity to the written word. In the hands of a good author, one can enter a world, immerse in all of its texture, get pierced by the stings that fall upon its characters, heal oneself and return to life renewed, and even better, an enhanced version of the self you once were prior to having read a story.
So, yes, reading is resistance. Reading is giving the finger to every dictator and his ilk, reminding them that I know what they did. I remember. Reading is my reminder that I have the facility to know and learn and act.
And hopefully, these stories also feed into the compulsion to write. It’s tough, it’s scary, but as a friend teaching history said to me today, “We have to take the long view. There’s comfort in reading history because you know people have had it worse in life. This is not humanity’s darkest moment.” But if it turns out to be, then at least we’ll also have the tools and the fortitude to carry on.
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Nash Tysmans, 29, is a reader and writer.
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