A colleague of mine lamented the other day that "it's a video culture now." Unfortunately, I think he may have a point.
I'm a big fan of video, don't get me wrong, so we won't go down that whole argument. The art of film is an important one, but it's not the only one, and while it serves the purpose of communicating powerful images and ideas, it is not a substitute for other genres.
Over the weekend, I bought William Joyce's beautiful children's book, "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," and found myself captivated not just by the beautiful illustrations but by the beautiful story itself. Normally, I don't buy children's books, but this time, I couldn't resist. The story begins with Mr. Morris Lessmore, a man who loves stories and writing, but who finds his life's work literally blown away by a powerful wind. And then he encounters a woman and her flying books, and the story takes off from there.
For the lover of books, this is the perfect story. And when I say books, I don't just mean the stories, but the object of the book itself--the feel of the pages, the smell of the paper, all the romance of its weight and texture and illustrations. A book is an experience, a relationship, something far different and more intimate than what one can get on film. Where film is a more passive experience, reading a book involves using your imagination, getting outside yourself and becoming a part of the creative process.
It's important to embrace the book, too, for the sake of our culture, our very humanity. Books take time. Books are luxurious. Books are healing. Books create better people because the very process of reading, of turning pages and digesting every single word trains the reader in the virtues. Through the very act of reading one learns wisdom, patience, prudence, right judgment. A reading society is a strong society, whereas a society based on sound bytes and YouTube clips and quick snippets of culture before they move on to the next thing can't reason the same way. Everything is too fast, whereas good critical thinking and pondering takes more than a minute...the best thoughts are pondered over lifetimes.
Don't get me wrong, I love a great film or TV show. I confess even to watch a little reality TV. But if I let that define myself, if I never took the time to hold a book and peruse its contents, I would lose a good portion of myself, and that would be a tragedy.
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Culture is all around us, in the city, the country, everywhere. We see it from the old world and the new, and as Catholics, we have a rich tradition of developing Western culture throughout our history.