If you have a spare 15-20 minutes, I thought this NY Times Magazine article, Secrets of a Mind-Gamer by Joshua Feder, about enhancing memory capacity was fascinating.
Of particular interest to comic fans, was this quote from the article:
"In his essay “First Steps Toward a History of Reading,” Robert Darnton describes a switch from “intensive” to “extensive” reading that occurred as printed books began to proliferate. Until relatively recently, people read “intensively,” Darnton says. “They had only a few books — the Bible, an almanac, a devotional work or two — and they read them over and over again, usually aloud and in groups, so that a narrow range of traditional literature became deeply impressed on their consciousness.” Today we read books “extensively,” often without sustained focus, and with rare exceptions we read each book only once. We value quantity of reading over quality of reading. We have no choice, if we want to keep up with the broader culture."
This, to me, is a perfect description of the conundrum facing the modern comic book geek, particularly those of us motivated to share our thoughts online. What resonated with me in particular is the "extensive" vs. "intensive" comparison. For years, I struggled to keep up with the rapid pace of new releases, rushing review after review to the web in order to be among the first opinion-leaders about which books were worth reading.
However, over the last few years, I have shifted to what Feder would describe as an "intensive" reading of the first volume of Love & Rockets. I have read the series probably a dozen times, and done considerable research as well. It's been a profoundly satisfying endeavor, but very time-consuming as well. I feel like I've gained a much deeper appreciation of the series than almost anyone I've come across (with the exception, perhaps, of Todd Hignite and Charles Hatfield), but as a result, I've also fallen way behind in the treadmill of new releases and online discourse.
But I wonder if the overwhelming amount of "extensive" reading is at the heart of what's underlying the periodic outcry that there's very little quality writing about comics anymore. As Feder implies, by trying rush through new works in order to hit the critical window, much of the quality of criticism has suffered. What we have now are loads of opinion-based criticism, where people with strong narrative voices simply blog about their reactions to whatever they happen to read. This is fine for a certain cursory level of analysis, but it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of more scholarly, academic, informed readings (of course, I'm thinking of the works which merit such reading, like Theo Ellsworth's Capacity, to cite just one example; obviously the latest issue of Blackest Night would not qualify).
I guess it's just the old trade-off of quantity vs. quality, and of course, it's important to remember that blogging is ultimately more an act of self-definition than a scholarly endeavor, but I think the people who often complain that there is not enough good writing about comics are ultimately reacting to this inevitable shift from "intensive" to "extensive" as the industry has expanded. It's food for thought, anyway.