Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Richard Cohen Still Wants You To Get Off His Lawn

Shorter Cohen: I like books. I like bookstores. I hate Amazon. I hate Kindle. I'm a grouchy old man, and I don't like all this newfangled stuff.

It's not quite as bad as his recent column griping about kids these days and their tattoos, but it's the same basic theme.

Oh, and he's not sure how he'd pick up girls in a world without bookstores.
I buy from actual bookstores, if I can. You go there and people are browsing or having coffee or staring into open laptops and pretending they're writers or something. If I were younger, I'd go there to pick up girls. I'd look over their shoulders and say, "Oh, 'The Prophet,' a book of eternal truths" -- or some such tripe. (It used to work.)
As Springsteen would say, the girls in their summer clothes pass him by.

Of course, young people always know where to pick each other up; the only problem here is that Cohen can't see what his place would be in this brave new world if he were young again. Hell, neither can I. But it doesn't matter: time's a one-way arrow; neither he nor I will ever live in the world of the young again. That's life.
I am now reading "Her Privates We," a book about World War I by the nearly unknown Frederic Manning. It's a bit of a masterpiece, a glorious piece of writing -- obscene and filthy as a trench on the Somme, and smart as hell. (Ernest Hemingway said, "It is the finest and noblest book of men in war that I have ever read.") I asked a bookseller in New York to recommend a brilliant but unheralded book, and he went through his shelves and picked out several, none of which I had ever heard of. "Her Privates We" was one of them. The Hemingway blurb sold me. No digital anything can do that.
Sure, it can. For nearly a decade, I've been an active participant in an online message board that's got a lot of pretty damned bright people who post there. We debate politics, we talk sports, we recommend books, movies, and music to each other. I hate to burst Cohen's bubble (scratch that: I love to burst Cohen's bubble), but Frederic Manning's The Middle Parts of Fortune, also about World War I, has been recommended multiple times there.

Of course, Richard Cohen would absolutely be sliced and diced in the political-debate fora on that message board - but that's just another way in which change is good.


JJ said...

I like Brittanica.com's "Your Brain Online Forum," particularly the dialog with Clay Shirkey. But the day the Washington Post published this editorial, it became officially inconceivable that there was anywhere to go but up.

(And anyone who hasn't tried a Kindle doesn't know what they're missing.)

JJ said...

You deleted my comment?