I dont make a habit of clicking through the links on my default home page, MSN.com (which Im too lazy to change), but every now and then something catches my eye, like "Read Moby Dick in 1 minute." And so I did. The exercise, produced by Disney.com, is part of the sites Fun for Families Activities section, which includes other "Last Minute Book Reports" from such classics as "War and Peace."
The first time I read "Moby Dick," it took me a few weeks, so I couldnt resist seeing how they did it in 1 minute (actually in 1 minute, 20 seconds). Surprisingly, they cram in most of the relevant plot information, but only because the voice that narrates the report sounds like a Rugrat on speed.
Its all just fun and games, of course. Something for the family to do at night while sitting around the computer, and certainly more fun, I suppose, than finding the actual text on the Project Gutenberg site and reading the original words. Or reading the actual book. How boring is that?
But this is what passes for high-brow culture in our ever-accelerating society. Our entire information-gathering experience has been reduced to just reading blurbs and headlines. And dont think that wily students wont sneak a peek at "Last Minute Book Reports" to assist them in a real last-minute report.
Before the birth of the Web, when I used to teach English literature to college freshmen, I told them that, to truly understand a book, reading quickly to the end just to find out what happens is the worst way. Reading, especially reading great works, should be done slowly and casually. But who has time for that these days, especially when everything is available in condensed form?
Information that comes to us faster isnt necessarily better. If we did try to slow down, just a little, we might not need the edited versions of everything. And we might enjoy them more.