from day 03/05/2019

Why read a big book? Quantitative Relevance in the Attention Economy

In a 2016 essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education that functioned as a teaser for her book Making Literature Now, Amy Hungerford, Professor of English, boldly revealed that she refused to read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, the notorious thousand-page monster novel. Hungerford has her reasons. Among others, including misogyny and the undeserved hype created by the commercial publishing industry, she mentions the constraints on her reading time in defense of her choice of not allotting a month of her life to reading this doorstopper. She refers to Gabriel Zaid, author of So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance (2003), who “argues that excessively long books are a form of undemocratic dominance that impoverishes the public discourse by reducing the airtime shared among others” (Hungerford 2016). In her defense of not reading, Hungerford evokes the need for pragmatic resource allocation.

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