is the title of an article by tim parks on the NYT blog. very interesting, and the comments section is (as often online) even more interesting. the community aspect of electronic reading (which we enjoy so much here on fictionaut) is completely missed out in this article. still, personally i remain split right through the middle. i carry both paper and portable e-reader. sometimes i wake up in the morning with the taste of a printed page in my mouth...not that i was much in the habit of licking paper but my whole metabolism grew in the midst and towards books. check it out, comment - here or there:
...I just remembered my father in the 1980s handing me a book that my grandfather had kept hidden from the Nazis. It made it the more precious because it could have been burnt but this particular copy hadn't been burned, you see. The fact that it might have burnt made it so valuable to him, to me, and even to all of you who haven't even held it, because I think you know what I'm talking about: the book was printed freedom, pure passion, a force, not just a collection of inflammable material plus words.
Right on, Brother. I think it's safe to say that the new media is here to stay and will eventually bloat upon itself like a tick, but in the meantime there are things that need to be said about the book. It is tactile. You hold it. You invest in it. You co-create with it. Everyone I've talked to says they enjoy holding a book in their hands. It's simple. We're human beings. We like touch.Having been a book buyer for many bookstores I have many of these favorite things still in my possession. I remember going to Gotham in NYC and finding the last Ist edition John Bellairs I needed to complete a trilogy and seeing pictures of James Joyce and E.E.Cummings on the wall. The smell..the smell of books alone evokes some timeless adventure and romance stories in my head. But back to what Marcus said:yeah the very first thing they did was burn books,people came later. The book has always represented freedom of choice. Your freedom to seek out new ideas, to educate yourself about the mysteries of life and death,to find something brave and interesting in the world and join or just admire it.In the beginning bookstores carried everything,the good,the bad and the ugly. It was up to you to wade your way through and find the magic fruit. Going into a bookstore used to be an adventure.You never knew what you would find. It thrilled you. And bringing home a new book that you discovered all on your own made you feel most alive inside. It's all true. But now we're in this sad new world where everything you do,every thought you have, every action you take is calculated to see if they can get you to buy some more. They don't care about you as a person.That's long gone. They care about you as a piggy bank.I used to love talking with customers about their favorite books,books that really changed their lives. Now clerks only ring you up and hand you your change. It might as well be hamburgers.Books were like pebbles or seashells--timeless,and yet so new and wonderful to behold.
I almost didn't post here because I was worried that people would think I was doing it to make attention for my book. Well, that's not the case. I'm making attention for all printed books. As a kid I carried home the maximum allotment of library books (six) each week. A tower of treasures to be held and read under the lamp. I have books spread all over my house. I simply couldn't live in a house without books. When a new book arrives in the mail, or is brought home from the bookstore, I feel joyous.
Ah, this topic is burning in my head these days. ebook or paper, ebook or paper. I hear and feel the special joyous quality of paper as well. Ugh.
I figured out a year or so ago that Gary and I have about 3500 books stashed into corners, stacked on tabletops, and pressed into bookshelves around this joint. The library holds sections of poetry, fiction, short story, philosophy, math, science, personal essay, African-American literature, feminist lit., textbooks, and biography. This is not a luxury for us. Books are a necessity. I would give up just about everything else I own before I would give up my books. I think I'll write a paean to the tactile perfection of holding and reading a book. As Dickinson writes:
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
The post-literates won't read books in any form. I'm less concerned about how language is shared (e-book or paper?)than with the deconstruction of literacy itself.
I've recently had occasion to read some of the same poems( Bill Yarrow's) in print that I'd previously only read on a computer screen. The poems struck me with greater immediacy and I think it was for a reason that I've not seen mentioned: that the print sits atop the paper, it literally comes toward you, where on-screen it's behind a layer of glass, at a physical, unbreachable remove and the eye and the perceiving mind take some account of the difference. I wonder if this has implications for the way and extent to which on-screen works can ever aspire to engage the reader.
David--Well said. I never thought about it quite this way, but I agree completely with your observation. Paper books involve us in tactile and sensuous ways with the written word reading from a computer screen can never hope to do.
Given all the chatter about e-books I wanted to post this funny article. True, but I think it will give you a few chuckles.
@Jules This article is indeed priceless, with lines like "Most of us are not leaders of totalitarian governments, and it's easy to think we never will be," and many ideas for the use of print books that I had never even thought of...I still won't throw my kindle away. Perhaps they'll develop an App that turns it into a weapon itself. Or into a babysitter (I've lately wanted to go out again).
Another funny thing that isn't actually funny at all is the "book burning" in Afghanistan just one day after I read that original article and posted my own blog post | http://blog.marcusspeh.com/?p=6767 | completely unrelated of course, but talk about "books turning into torches" like the Quran in the Middle East (or any other highly identified, iconized book anywhere else, really)...I doubt if the "deletion" of a book (a silent act) would ever raise a riot.
Stumbled on this unusual use of books the other day. Now THIS kind of book desecration I could get behind-- http://karanarora.posterous.com/insane-art-formed-by-carving-books-with-surgi
Literature evolved from storytelling, from remembered, unwritten tales of heroes and fools related around a million campfires over countless generations. It evolved from litanies of descendants, epics, spoken traditions, rhymed and rhythmed for the purpose of enhancing remembrance, songs.
Then came letters, alphabets, scribes.
The book evolved from tablets, scrolls.
The printing press democratized encapsulated knowledge and art, that which had been the exclusive domain of the wealthy potentaes and churchmen, who hoarded books when books were made by hand.
I love books, the possession, the feeling, the smell of them, the very idea that I can, by picking up a book, read the thoughts and ideas of men and women in other times and other places. Books and novels, the cult of tangible intimacy in communicated thought from one mind to another has been extant on the earth for hundreds of years now.
Change is coming.
We are not special, we who have embraced our culture of books. Futures and possibilities are infinite. I suppose I love the idea that in such forms as e-books and kindles and other electronic formats, the structure of books continues, the idea and the intimacy of books remains, however volatile, however difficult to understand and embrace for its differences from books.
But change is slow and books remain the spine of our culture. I can go out and buy books, borrow them from libraries, read them until my eyes grow dim if I so choose. They're not going to disappear, but they're just not as cheap as they used to be. However, in something so immediate and globally available as electronics and the internet, where thoughts can suddenly be transmitted and received globally by any and all, there is something beautiful and exciting. And because it transcends institutionalized structure, the democratization of electronic media suddenly tears down the wall of access.
It sparks revolutions and liberates us all.
We just don't understand it yet and how the change will affect the culture we have perfected in books. We don't know how it will affect our standing as writers, how it will change us, how it will enhance or detract from the value of... our selves.
But we will.
We have a choice. We can either embrace the new electronic media, shape them, and become a part of the new structures that evolve, or... we can sit around on the porch in the summer and talk about how much better it was '...in the old days.' Either way,since books are still as much a part of our world as in the past, we can straddle this fence with ease for a while.
But change is coming.
Language is sacred. Words are sacred.
Whether in print or on screen, typed or scrawled or chiseled, in the bell of my ear, in my head, in the air.
I am not going to change. I have always been changing. I will always change.
Thank you Sam.Absolutely love what you wrote here and agree. Personally I think we're all aware of the true meanings of things. What's coming is already here. I don't think the people here are exactly lamenting change. It's inevitable.We've been there many times before. Books served a good purpose for a good long time.They were hijacked,pirated,stolen,and abused,too.We witnessed this cloud for ourselves, but everything becomes a coal of itself in time.I think what we fear is what we have always collectively feared--that we will lose touch with something basic, with ourselves,with each other,with all possibilities,with diffrent voices,if we don't work hard to remain true to our own deepest feeling,like flying a kite,the courage,the generosity,the sacrifice found only in human nature,simple things like touching,like holding hands,like reading poems outside in the beautiful day in spite of the small turn out.The new media is dazzling everyone. But let's not kid ourselves. The potential is there for great good or god awful greed. My guess is that both are already at play.Writers have their own work to do regardless of the changes being wrought all around them by either books or fancified toy phones.
As for me, I will always strive to get the print book regardless of the shrinking audience for print these days. It's a sensual thing, for me, holding a book. Like holding someone you love. I need the tangible to complete the experience.
It depends on what you mean by e-book.
There are so many differences between the two mediums. Here is one: a physical book can be designed and printed in a virtual infinity of ways. A typical e-book is restricted to a small number of software designs.
We can all design and print a physical book, but in the case of e-books, we are dependent on mostly immature technology to squeeze text into fairly unsophisticated templates.
A physical book can be a minimalist and beautiful artifact. An e-book is mostly polluted by unsightly buttons, displays text in unsharp typefonts, and restricts us to often buggy pagination or tedious scrolling. Maybe in about ten years the technology will have caught up a little, but at the moment e-books mostly suck.
Text properly formatted on a larger computer screen, programmed specifically for the particular text, is another thing altogether. But that is not an e-book.
E-text is superior as a composing and research medium. Few of us use a typewriter or pen any more, and for good reasons.
The above is only my opinion, and needless to say should be taken with a grain of salt.