If you haven’t read it, go out now and purchase the new issue of Harpers magazine. Ursula K. Le Guin has the most perspicacious (not to mention a bit angry) essay on the state of reading, and the book, and the social bonding capacity of books, and their capacity to house cultural information and memory, and how capitalism applied to publishing in extreme undermines the very function of books: a commonwealth experience, rather than one of personal profit or self-interest.
A favorite passage:
Besides, readers aren’t viewers; they recognize their pleasure as different from that of being entertained. Once you’ve pressed the ON button, the TV goes on, and on, and on, and all you have to do is sit and stare. But reading is active, an act of attention, of absorbed alertness–not all that different from hunting, in fact, or from gathering. In its silence, a book is a challenge: it can’t lull you with surging music or deafen you with screeching laugh tracks or fire gunshots in your living room; you have to listen to it in your head. A book won’t move your eyes for you the way images on a screen do. It won’t move your mind unless you give it your mind, or your heart unless you put your heart in it. It won’t do the work for you. To read a story well is to follow it, to act it, to feel it, to become it–everything short of writing it, in fact. Reading is not “interactive” with a set of rules or options, as games are; reading is actual collaboration with the writer’s mind. No wonder not everybody is up to it.