A Response to the "Atlantic" Concerning Attractive Young Book Readers on the Metro

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 3 2010 3:39 PM

A Response to the "Atlantic" Concerning Attractive Young Book Readers on the Metro

I suppose in this digital age it is a mark of some sort of honor to have other people levy their snark at you, as the Atlantic did yesterday , in response to my Slate piece about how the Kindle might hurt romance . I am not sure why the mean tone is called for, or what writers think they gain by using it; I guess I should just be happy that when the Atlantic 's Web site published its second piece attacking me , just one day after the first, the tone was more thoughtful and congenial.

Having never been taken down twice in one publication before, I don't quite know the etiquette, but I suppose I should just briefly address the second, better takedown. Eleanor Barkhorn is not quite wrong, I think, when she discusses how Twitter and Facebook will replace the old world of the Public Book, in which we could strike up a conversation based on a book our fellow (say) subway-rider was reading. It's more that she misses one of my main points, which was that the book could be used to strike up a first conversation. It's true that her Twitter followers know what she is reading ( Slate pieces by me, apparently)—but I can't imagine that her Twitter followers include, you know, everyone . What happens if a hottie sees her on the Metro (D.C., yes?) and wants to talk to her. My point was just that the Kindle won't give them an in, not the way a book might.

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It's not a terribly profound point, but it does seem to be irrefutably true. If you don't believe me, ask yourself how many conversations you have started with people about what's on their iPod. I am guessing none, and not just because he/she is plugged into the earbuds. But back when people had record albums lying around, they were conversation pieces.

It's actually kind of weird reading Eleanor's post, since she seems to assume, just assume , that anyone she might want to know is somehow already in her digital network. Between Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, I suppose Foursquare, and God knows what else, she has some sort of access to the tastes, literary and otherwise, of everyone she might ever want to share a frappuccino with. If that were true, that would be sad. But of course it isn't true. As closed as our publishing circles are, we are lucky to find brides, grooms, and plain old friends outside them; many of those friendships will be struck up when we meet in person. And when we meet in person, it is nice to say, "Hey, I heard that book was good" or "Wow, I like K.T. Tunstall, too."

K.T. Tunstall, you ask? I guess I am way over the hill. I turn 36 this month. Maybe somebody will buy me a book.

Mark Oppenheimer writes the Beliefs column for the New York Times. He can be found at markoppenheimer.com and followed on Twitter @markopp1.

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