Stalingrad: a great read, but someone else’s words
I finished reading a book the other day. The way it happened was that I was at a birthday celebration and one of my friends, let’s call him Adrian, gave the birthday boy, let’s call him Dominic, a book as a gift. When Dominic saw the book’s title, he said: “You muppet, didn’t you think I’d already read Stalingrad? Everyone’s read Stalingrad.” He turned and pointed accusingly at the hard copy on his bookshelf. I felt this was slightly harsh treatment by my friend. Part wanting to help out my taken-aback gift-giving friend, and part feeling I perhaps ought to read this book (that “everyone’s read”) myself, I said: “I haven’t read it. I’ll have it.”
So I embarked on a chilling story of politics, horrific combat and military strategy. It is a great read. But it took me about 2 months. As the old joke goes: “I’m writing this slowly because I know you’re not a fast reader” I’m not a fast reader. But it’s an achievement to have read a book from cover to cover at all these days. I don’t think I’d read another book since…. March 20, 2011. That’s the day I started on Instagram. Like, I’m sure, many of you reading this, it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that Instagram now dominates a big chunk of my leisure time. Taking photos, apping images and then chatting about them (and other people’s) online: it takes up a lot of my time.
So what else has moved aside? I cancelled my Sky Sports subscription. I’d started nodding off during the matches. I hardly watch any TV at all now. I take a newspaper with me when I get on the tube, but someone’s face usually catches my eye or there’s a recent photo I want to app up.
Books are great, but they’re still someone else’s words. Taking and apping photos, you’re on the active side. You’re not being passive. You’re creating, not consuming. Isn’t that a great thing, to be expressing yourself, to be bringing something into this world? I get a little spark of joy whenever I get a shot I like - as photographers down the ages have. But with smart phone cameras, you can now get more of those sparks of joy, more of the time.
Books on the tube: a rare sight these days