There’s a lovely article here about libraries and librarians. I particularly like this quote:
“…people expect art to happen to them. Music and film do that, a CD will do that, but you have to make a book happen to you. It’s between you and it. People can be changed by books, and that’s scary. When I was working in the school library, I’d sometimes put a book in a kid’s hands and I’d feel excited for them, because I knew that it might be the book that changed their life. And once in a while, you’d see that happen, you’d see a kind of light come on behind their eyes.”
I would say that a film can change a person too, but I know exactly what is meant here. Sometimes I’m too lazy to read even a rubbish book, because I want my entertainment to happen to me; I don’t want to invest anything in it. That’s why even a life-changing film doesn’t have the effect a book can have. Its impact might be more immediate, but it doesn’t sink as deep.
In the hostel where I’m staying now in China, the book cabinet is shut with a fat padlock. You can watch a DVD here; the discs are just lying around on a table for people to choose from. Internet access, if you haven’t got your own laptop (but most people have), costs just a few pennies. To borrow a book, however, you have to deposit your passport with reception.
My passport, that document that lets me travel freely round most of the world, in exchange for a bundle of printed paper. Rarely have I been so very careful not to lose the book I’m reading (Patrick Hennessey’s The Junior Officers’ Reading Club, since you ask. Oddly appropriate. I wonder what happened to all the books they read out in Afghanistan – still there, locked up in some book cabinet?)
The girl opposite me in the hostel lounge is watching a Korean soap on her laptop and simultaneously chatting on QQ, the Chinese equivalent of facebook. The boy a couple of tables over is telling his friends back home via skype about eating dog and rabbit brains. Behind me a girl is writing her journal while listening to her i-pod. In the corner someone is watching the DVD of Twilight (yes really) on the TV. And I am tapping away at this.
We’re all together but we’re miles apart, separated by screens and headphones, in our own different worlds of entertainment. To some of us, art is happening. Outside the hostel, China is happening and we are paying no attention.