The Medium is Nearly as Vital as the Message
“The reality is that sometimes the packaging really makes a difference in what you can take away from the book. I remember when Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose first came out in the 80’s. I was just blown away by it. I was captured from page one. As William of Baskerville wanders up the trail toward the monastery and begins to notice clues that wow everyone. He out-sherlocked Sherlock. And then through the labyrynthine theology that takes you to the great climax at the end, I was hooked. I told every pastor friend of mine; every theologian; everybody I knew teaching at seminary, ‘You have to read this book!’ Several of them, having become accustomed to such messages from me, put it off until it came out in paperback. And then I started to get this trickle of voicemails and emails…well, I guess it was faxes back in those days. Anyway, a trickle of messages from folks saying, ‘I can’t get into this. It’s obtuse. It’s dense. I’m not getting anywhere.’ And then I discovered that they’re reading it in a mass-market paperback! On paper that would have been rejected for USA Today for heaven’s sakes! Not even worth printing factoids on it. So I told them, ‘Go to Crown or Barnes and Noble. Go to the remainder table. Buy yourself a hardback, and read it properly.’ Now that may seem silly, but in point of fact, prose that is dense and difficult needs an appropriate architecture to contain it. Aesthetics matter. Aesthetics always matter. We, who think the height of American architecture is some tin shed on a highway, actually believe that aesthetics don’t matter. But when you walk into a stone cathedral in the middle of Stephansplatz, a block from Mozart’s home, you realize, ‘you know–tin sheds aren’t all they’re cracked-up to be.’ And neither are crummy paperbacks… Medium is nearly as vital as the message.”
George Grant (the one in Franklin, TN) from the lecture “Shelf Life: Reading, Thinking, and Resisting the Tyranny of the Urgent”. You can purchase it here.