WILL UNWOUND #157: “Woody Allen and the Future of Reading” by Will ManleyJune 29, 2010
At one time, Woody Allen topped my funniest person in the world list. I grew up with Woody Allen’s humor and connected with the metaphysical quirkiness of his jokes while in college. He made my required philosophy courses a bit more bearable.
However, like a lot of creative people (Steve Martin is another very good example) Woody Allen did his best work in the earliest part of his career. With each successive movie and book, Woody descended farther and farther down on my list of funny people. Now he is somewhere above PeeWee Herman but below Oscar the Grouch.
To me the best Woody Allen jokes were the introspective ones:
- Reality sucks but it’s the only place I know of where you can get a steak.
- Not only is God dead, but try to find a plumber on the weekend.
- I do not believe in an afterlife, although I am bringing a change of underwear.
- I am not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.
- What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet. (Mick, that was for you!).
My favorite Woody Allen joke of all time, however, is this one, which I heard while I was in Library School:
- I took a speed reading course and was able to read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It’s about Russia.
As funny as the speed reading joke is, it’s actually quite thought provoking today, especially in light of Steve’s comment in response to yesterday’s blog post about the distinction between book librarians and machine librarians:
- I didn’t become a librarian because I love either books or technology; I don’t have any strong feelings for either. I do love information, and I’ll help people find it in any format that works. When I help my students find books I look at it as a reference transaction; I find out what they want/need and help them find it. When they ask me for a “good” book I tell them that depends on what they like, and go from there. Unless it’s a picture book or maybe a nonfiction book about a topic that interests me chances are good that I’d never read it myself. I feel a little hypocritical at times, being a school librarian with no real love of books. I could probably count the books I’ve read this year on one hand. I like my information in small bits, and no longer have the patience for plowing through word after word, page after page. For the past several years I can’t think of a book where I wasn’t thinking, “I really wish this book would end” halfway through it. I’ve read articles about how people aren’t doing “deep reading” anymore. I’m not, so I can understand those who don’t want to. Maybe I’m in a better position than a lot of librarians to help people who are in the same boat as me. I’ll help them decide which format is best and most efficient for the information they want. It may be a book to read for pleasure, and it’s my job to help them find it whether or not it’s something I’d want to read. I guess I’m not really in either of Will’s categories.
At first I was a bit surprised and dismayed by a librarian who does not like to read, but then when I reflected on what Steve had to say, I came to the conclusion that in his disarming honesty he was on to something quite important: As a non book reader and as an avid consumer of bytes of information, he actually might have a better understanding of today’s student library users than any of us.
Last week we had fun ridiculing Twitter, but maybe the joke is on us. We are in the middle of an information tornado with data swirling all around us. Maybe the great communicators of wisdom and knowledge will no longer be the eloquent authors of long tomes like War and Peace, but rather the crafty wordsmiths who can do more with less…possibly even within the 140 character limit.
We’ve talked about the possibility that technology will kill the book, but maybe that’s not the issue at all. Maybe readers will kill it willingly and without remorse. Has the book length narrative become too long for the modern reader?
Until that happens, I’ll paraphrase another of Woody Allen’s jokes: “Reality sucks but it’s the only place I know of where I can read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
And, by the way, it may be impossible to find a plumber on the weekend, but try finding a knowledgeable reader’s advisory librarian anytime.