Book versus The Machine
Paper and ink books have been around since the days of Gutenberg. And the quality, availability, and price of books have improved over the years. Published books, well into the mid-19th century, were prohibitive in cost and therefore available to a very limited audience. By the mid-20th century the price of hard back books were no longer exorbitant in price, and the mass production of paper backs made books virtually available to all readers.
Today, printed books of all kinds, as well as booksellers, bookstores and publishers are facing both a socio-cultural and financial revolution in regard to how the “written word” is distributed and read. Simply put, the future of the physical book, if not reading itself, and the future bookstores large and small, is in transition and doubt.
There is much unease in the great publishing houses, such as – Random House, Penguin, Wiley and Sons, Alfred A. Knopf and Simon and Schuster. The major bookstore chains have experienced financial failure and bankruptcy. Today, only Barnes and Noble and the virtual bookseller, Amazon, have survived the deaths of Dalton Booksellers, Crown Books, and, most recently, Borders, and, of course, the small book stores, except for a few excerpts are struggling to hang on. The immediate course of this consternation in the book industry is of course e-books and the growing variety of e-book readers.
Putting aside the financial question of “will bookstores of any shape and size survive”, as a reader the essential question for me is “real books”, e-books, or CDs?
If you are a purest, e-books and e-readers – are just one more step closer to the complete takeover of machines in our lives. Computers now dominate the workplace. They fly our planes. They do our banking and billing. They build stuff for us. They have transformed written communication, and almost eliminated the need for a post office. And in my Kindle, iPad or Nook, before I leave on vacation, I can download 40 books with me instead of carefully choosing, by author and weight, the books I can take along with me. E-books offer the voracious reader the luxury of carrying a library with them in their briefcase or purse. Bottom line, e-books offer flexibility.
Books on CDs –I don’t know about you, but being limited to listening to the radio while you’re driving is boring. Except for NPR, and a few music channels – everything else is pretty much political talk radio, sports and bad music. But if you drive 45 minutes each way to work every day, you can get through a 380 page novel in about 32 round trips. For me, CDs are a “guilty pleasure”, because I get to listen to the kinds of novels (mysteries and detective procedurals) that I otherwise wouldn’t have time for.
Finally, the book itself. I for one like the feel of books. I enjoy the ease of writing notes on the page, underlining, and bending back the page to keep my place. I like to hold books, somehow it makes me feel more engaged in the act of reading. I like the look of books. Their colorful jackets, their size and shape fascinate me. Most of all, I love my library because it’s a room full of books that are old friends. And, I simply can’t imagine feeling as comfortable in a room full of boxes of CDs and my iPad.As Cicero once said: “A room without books is a body without a soul.”
But putting aside my personal preference, the real issue here is reading not the platform used to read. Books are an intergalactic traveling device. Books can transport us through time. Books can get you into the minds of the greatest thinkers who have ever lived. Long before radio, TV, computers, etc., books have been our “windows to the world.”