They came for Middlemarch (904 pp), but I didn't speak up for it because I wasn't a Victorian. Then they came for The Adventures of Augie March (608 pp), and I didn't speak up for it because I heard it was bad for the Jews. Then they came for Ulysses (556 pp), but I didn't speak up for it because I was still pissed off about having to read Finnegans Wake (672 pp) in school. Then they came for A Visit From the Goon Squad, which at 288 pages was suddenly too long, but by then nobody gave a what the what about books at all. -- Barbara Finkelstein: In Defense of Long Books
Barbara Finklestein tries to shame us into reading long books with her "Martin Niemöller guilt card," but it's too late.
Truth be told, the world is searching for one-minute orgasms, weekend relationships and short books. Anything longer requires commitment.
Word on the street is that if you can't get your foreplay done between text messages, your sex is out of hand. Sure,some (fewer every day) remember the good old days when still waters ran deep, but shallow is the new normal whether you're looking at a doctor's appointment, a marriage or psychoanalysis--much less a novel.
Actually, if you can remember the good old days, you're already behind the curve of the nine-second sound bite, 24-second news cycle and the nanosecond page load. Fast is good because it frees up more time for instant gratification.
Sure, some (fewer every minute) remember the good old days when we understood that "speed kills," but now anything else is too slow a way to die. These days, anything other than fast food is a waste of time, time that can be used for unlimited peak experiences and more input.
Needless to say, if you remember anything that happened prior to 30 minutes ago, you're spending too much time thinking and too little time keeping up with what's happening now. Here we're not speaking of the timeless "eternal now," but the temporal finite now. Even the word "now" has gotten too long.
In our rush, we've given up long books. Used to be, a long book was like a long marriage or sex that lasted all evening. Now, long books require too much commitment. We need to protect ourselves from commitment, that is to say, anything that requires more that a moment of our time. Otherwise, how foolish we are. Who wants to send a text message these days that admits to thirty minutes of anything?
Writers are already worrying about the day when a Tweet is the longest thing in the galaxy anyone will read.
One can't help but applaud an approach to life that offers a constant blank slate. Yesterday is not only irrelevant, it might not have happened. If you remember the uproar that hit the planet when the concept of "Situation Ethics" first came up, suffice it to say you're remembering an illusion. Yet, to forget is to have situation ethics and literature that fits on a cell phone screen and everything else that is the soul of wit.
Here's the important truth and there's no point in whining about it: Anything longer than a brief, shining moment is an eternity outside the boundaries of our attention span.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of "Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire," a satirical novel that you can be reading in less than a New York minute on your Kindle.