There is an almost perfect bookstore that I wander into every day. The entrance to the store steps down onto an old, beige carpet with spots showing its age. Immediately to the right and left are four floor to ceiling bookcases . Another four smaller bookcases line the wall to the left, with three more on the opposite side of the store. On the right hand side of the store on a single shelf, are the reference books. It’s incredible but this bookstore is like walking to my brain. There are some 200+ volumes by Isaac Asimov, some rare, a few signed. There are signed Ray Bradbury books, a complete used set of Will and Ariel Durant’s Story of Civilization. There is a shelf and a half full of Harlan Ellison books, with at least a dozen signed. Everywhere I look, there are books that I would choose for my own collection. There are even magazines, a complete run of Science Fiction Age and issues from Astounding between 1939-1950. They even have books and magazines with my own stories in them! It is an unusual bookshop in that none of the more than 1,100 books on the shelves are for sale. It is, of course, my office.
This is as close as I can come to describing the feeling I got upon reading Pamela Paul’s wonderful new book, 100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet. Paul is the editor of The New York Times Book Review. She wrote another wonderful book a few years back, My Life With Bob, which detailed her “book of books,” the analog equivalent to the list of books I’ve read since 1996. As the title of her new book suggests, it is a collection of 100 short essays about things we no longer have thanks to the Internet, things that I remember well from the days before the Internet. Paul laments the loss of these things in an engaging fashion that appeals to people of a certain age. Below that age threshold and the reader might be mystified. The 100 things she suggests and the way in which she discusses them is eerily close to what my own list would include. Indeed, while reading the book, I kept thinking to myself, hey, I’ve written about that. I’ve written about that, too. And that.
Let me gives some examples of the 100 things that Paul says we’ve lost to the Internet that I’ve also written about here on the blog. Keep in mind that these are things we have lost to the Internet.
|Chapter 13: The Phone Call.||When A Phone Is No Longer A Phone (2021)|
|Chapter 16: The School Library||The Nine Planets by Franklyn M. Branley (2010)|
|Chapter 21: The Family Meal||Rushing Through Dinner: A Tale of the Twenty-First Century (2021)|
|Chapter 25: Solitude||Quiet Places (2019)|
|Chapter 28: Losing Yourself in a Show||Why I Can’t Watch Movies Anymore (2021)|
|Chapter 36: The Paper||Do Fifth-Graders Still Learn to Read the Newspaper (2019)|
|Chapter 42: Patience||Have You Seen My Patience (2017)|
|Chapter 46: Looking Out the Window||The Evolution of Road Trips (2015)|
|Chapter 51: Leaving a Message||Retiring My Voicemail (2013) (One thing that I do not lament)|
|Chapter 53: Maps||Map Reading Is a Dying Art (2016)|
|Chapter 55: Handwritten Letters||Letters vs. Email (2018)|
|Chapter 58: Spelling||Spelling Snobs (2021)|
|Chapter 60: Wondering About the Weather||Talking About the Weather (2021)|
|Chapter 76: Penmanship||Cursive Handwriting (2017)|
|Chapter 86: Movie Theaters||Why Go To the Movies? (2017)|
One of the essays (Chapter 41) was about the Spanish-English Dictionary. It lamented how these are no longer needed, now that Alexa or Siri could translate just about anything for you. I heard that and had to smile because here, beside my desk is a Spanish-English Dictionary sitting atop a copy of Don Quijote de la Mancha. I have been (very slowly) trying to make my way through the book as a way to beef up on my Spanish.
As I read 100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet, I kept finding myself muttering under my breath “Yeessss! Exactly!” It really felt like Pamela Paul was reading my mind. It wasn’t a scary feeling, but a delightful one. She captures each lost thing perfectly, and her descriptions put me in mind of those things that the Internet has taken away. I felt joy and wistfulness at the same time. If my reaction to Paul’s book is any example, I can’t see how it could be anything less than a runaway bestseller–and deservedly so.
Recently, I’ve started to read aloud to the kids. We do it for a short time each evening, as a kind of family activity. The first book they picked was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. However, I’ve made a promise to myself to mix nonfiction into these readings, and I think the next book will be 100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet. I think it will make for lively discussion.
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