The Narrative of Our Nation

The same year that I published my first book of poetry, I learned to build trails. While building a bridge out of red maple and black ash, I thought about building a story. Moving stones to build a staircase, is not so different from moving words to construct an essay. The first time I sharpened my own ax I thought about sharpening pencils. At night, the lake where I was living looked like ink.

As I began my year of service with the Student Conservation Association, my goal was to strike a balance between my commitments to writing, community, and the environment. Sitting around the big table in our communal dining room the twenty people I would be spending the next year with introduced themselves.

Name. Hometown. Major. One other fact about yourself.

One after the other these recent college graduates described themselves in disciplines: Biology, Ecology, Environmental Science, Environmental Studies, Geography, Geology, Natural Resource Management, Environmental Law, Landscape Architecture, Chemistry, Forestry… and then there was me.

Everyone was surprised to find an English major in their midst. Continue reading

On Not Resisting the Kindle

Or “How I learned to stop worrying and love the screen.”

In the March 2nd edition of The Atlantic Sven Birkerts laments the way that the Kindle and other new technologies are eroding “a certain kind of cultural understanding.” This is not the first time Birkerts has made this appeal. His best known book, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, is an expanded version of this argument. The Kindle is just a convenient and timely vehicle for his longstanding critique of literacy in our digital age.

Birkerts’ reference to Gutenberg in the title of his book is fitting. As I read his article, I couldn’t help but thinking of a story Clay Shirky tells in his book Here Comes Everybody. Shirky writes about the scribes – an elite group of literate monks – whose job it was, for many centuries, to hand-copy books. That is, until the 1400’s when Gutenberg came along. “Suddenly,” writes Josh Benton, describing the scene, “scribes were no longer a necessary link between knowledge and learner.” And as the printing press spread across Europe, the scribes sounded remarkably like Birkerts, warning of all that we will lose if we allow technology to reshape reading. Continue reading