In the quietest moments

Last week on Talk of the Nation, Neal Conan hosted a discussion “about when and where we read” with the editor and contributor of a new Paris Review anthology, The Paris Review Book for Planes, Trains, Elevators, and Waiting Rooms. (Via Terry Bain.)

At first it struck me as kind of Orwellian for an editor to dictate the circumstances in which a story should be read, but then I realized I was being paranoid and curmudgeonly and that it’s actually handy to have a decent collection with contributions organized by length.

Once I took a look at the contributors’ page, I got all hepped up about the book. It includes offerings from, among others: Denis Johnson, Junot Diaz, and Philip Roth (for planes); Lydia Davis and T.C. Boyle (for trains); and Jamaica Kincaid, James Lasdun, and Lucy Grealy (for elevators).

Here’s an excerpt from Richard Powers’ introduction:

We are living in the middle of an epidemic, one of those viruses that we’ve spread everywhere, almost without noticing…. In real time, every second counts. Every minute must be maximized. Since we cannot stop the escaping moments, we have our machines give us the next best thing: two moments, crammed into one. Split screen. Multitasking. Mobile wireless voicemail message forwarding. RSS feeds. Picture-in-a-picture. We need miss nothing. In fact, we can’t.

In real time, every pleasure and pain plays out in public. Our most intimate fears are blogged and annotated with real-time communal comments a thousand times a day, retrievable anytime from anywhere, at least for the time being….

Reading may be the last secretive behavior that is neither pathological nor prosecutable. It is certainly the last refuge from the real-time epidemic.


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