Title

Only Books

Placing books, rather than articles or podcasts or social media, at the center of our conversations.

December 5, 2019
 
 

We should talk more about books.

Books should more frequently show up as the touchstones of our conversations.

Books should be the foundations on which we build our arguments and the vehicles that enable our debates.

Why books? Why not other carriers of ideas, data, analysis and opinion?

Why should books be privileged over other information artifacts? Many articles can be read, and podcasts heard, in the time that it takes to read even the most concise book.

There is likely not an academic among us who doesn’t wish for more time for book reading. Between all the other demands for information consumption (articles, papers, emails, etc.), there is little time or energy left in the week for book reading.

Answering the “why” question for privileging books over other media is straightforward. Books have both depth and staying power.

Even the best nonfiction books will be somewhat repetitive. This may seem like a bug of books. Who has not thought while reading a nonfiction monograph that its arguments would have been better served in a lengthy article?

The repetitiveness of books, however, turns out to be a feature. Our brains need to process information multiple times for anything to stick. I have to read about five books on any given subject before I can start to get my head around anything.

A nonfiction book is a conversation across time. It incorporates what has come before and projects a discussion into the future. A book is a solid manifestation of a body of ideas and knowledge. A book takes a long time to produce. It demands the sustained attention of the reader.

None of this is to diminish the potential impact and importance of an article, a podcast or anything else. Books don’t substitute for other forms of writing and communication but inspire them.

What I am arguing is that academics -- the readers of Inside Higher Ed -- should choose to radically privilege books over other media.

This choice requires a conscious effort to read a book instead of an article and listen to an audiobook instead of a podcast.

What I am saying is that our community should spend much less time on social media and much more time on book reading.

In the conversations on Inside Higher Ed, both articles and comments, books should shamelessly be used to advance ideas and arguments. Everyone on Inside Higher Ed should talk more about what they are reading, and everyone should forgo other information sources in favor of books.

Placing books ahead of all other information channels requires us all to do a few things differently. First, books should be acquired promiscuously. We should all buy exponentially more books than we could ever possibly read. Books should be stacked floor to ceiling in our offices, overflowing our bookshelves. We should have piles of books on our nightstands, in our living rooms and our bathrooms.

For digital book nuts like myself, our phones and ereaders should be stuffed with ebooks and audiobooks.

We should spend way too much money on our book-buying habits. And we should stop worrying about when we will get around to reading all the books we acquire or borrow. The closer a book is at hand, the more likely it will be read.

We also need to recognize that there has never been a better time to build our mental scaffolding around books. An entire library of digital books can be carried on our phones. We can choose to use our screens to read books rather than tweets. Book reading can occur whenever we have a spare moment.

As an Inside Higher Ed community, we need to embrace the idea that we are all book reviewers. The habit of sharing what we are reading should cultivated. We need to shed the notion that only certain people -- book reviewers -- can critique and analyze the books we read.

What are you reading? We want to know. Why did you choose that book? What format are you reading it in? What is that book causing you to think about the future of higher ed?

Social media, to the extent that those platforms crowd out book reading, is terrible.

Down with social media. Down with Twitter. Down with blogs.

Books are our fuel and oxygen.

Let’s talk more about books.

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