Posted by: chartroose | April 29, 2008

The Future of the Book – Part 2

Wow, it seems like I’ve really opened up a can of worms here!  I went over to visit Trish this morning and found some rather strong opinions about my last post regarding the Kindle.  Here is my response to all of my detractors:

First of all, there cannot possibly be a bigger book lover than I am.  I love the feel, the smell, the idea of books, and I believe that all forms of written language and thought represent the highest level of grace that humankind can ever reach.  I think I was born believing this.

So, I thought I would be the last bastion to hold on to the idea of paper books, but then I got the Kindle.  I knew from the moment I turned it on and began reading that it was something special.  It’s not pretty and it’s all plastic, but believe me when I say that this thing is WAY COOL, and this is just the beginning.

It’s a primitive form of what an electronic book device will be in the future, and if Steve Jobs has thrown his hat into the ring, I forsee that the electronic book IS the future, whether we like it or not.

Many of the reponses, both here and on Trish’s site were totally emotional, and while I understand this, they are purely based on comfort, not practicality.  We all have memories of books from when we were teeny-tiny, and it’s hard to let go of the “security-blanket” that books have always provided for us.  Pretty soon, though, we all have to put away our binkies and our baby bottles and grow up and learn to accept (if not embrace) change.

Yes, I do enjoy bookstores and books I can tote around and flip through and all that good stuff, but e-books are superior for the following reasons:

1. Accessibility — You can get practically anything on your e-book reader.  If you grow tired of reading War and Peace, you can get on the internet and start reading “The New York Times” or the “Daily Kos” or your own blog.  You can download free books, and you can shop at a virtual bookstore.

2. Convenience — It’s kind of like carrying a library without the heavy mess to lug around.

3. Conservation — These little handhelds are better than paper simply because we don’t have to kill trees to make them, and electronics recycling is now part of the mainstream, so I don’t buy the whole pollution aspect.  We pollute more by cutting down and processing trees to make paper to use for books.

I’m surprised that so many readers have already made up their minds never to touch one because, oh heaven help us, we aren’t holding an honest-to-god book.  A book is not a format — it’s not a bunch of pages and a cover.  A book is what it conveys, it’s what’s on the inside, it’s what the author is trying to tell you.  It’s the imagination and the ideas and the prose and the soaring feeling it gives you when you’ve read something exquisite.  It’s what makes you cry with heartbreak or giggle with amusement.

A book is not just the package.  A book is what is inside the package.

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Responses

  1. I have “future of the book” in my google alerts, so once again your post came up this afternoon.

    I want to add a qualification to your last statement that a book is not the package. No doubt the way in which the Kindle (and any other e-readers that come out) catch on is going to affect the kind of content that is produced. In that sense (to channel McLuhan a bit) the book is the package. Dickens writes what he wrote because he published serially; the novel it is what it is because it’s published as a bound codex that, as a bound codex, can be distributed through certain channels.

    I love books too. I don’t think they’re going to die, but the type of content that gets published is going to change (and already has) as it interacts with other media.

  2. Whitney — I hope you’re wrong about the book being the package, because I’d hate to see new novelists changing what they are thinking and putting down on (e)paper because their work is to be published electronically. Hardly anyone writes serials anymore, so I don’t think that’s a problem.

    I’ve heard that people are becoming more illiterate because of text messaging. They can’t spell and they can’t write. Maybe e-books will help with that in a way.

    This is something I will have to mull over.

  3. I really want a kindle or sony’s version. I think it’d be incredibly handy to throw in the diaper bag or my purse. The price is a huge stumbling block for me. I do love physical books, and have shelves full to prove it, but I get most of them through trading sites or used.

  4. Yeah, Lisa — They definitely should be cheaper. When you think about it, though, they’re essentially a handheld computer, so the price isn’t too terribly bad.

  5. This whole debate reminds me of when CD’s were just coming into their own. I went kicking and screaming into that technology. I loved my vinyl albums! Now I’m reluctant to go the electronic music route, because I love my CD’s. It’s all what we’re used to, I think. All I know is that I will read obsessively, no matter what form it all takes in the future.

    Lezlie

  6. “Many of the reponses, both here and on Trish’s site were totally emotional, and while I understand this, they are purely based on comfort, not practicality. We all have memories of books from when we were teeny-tiny, and it’s hard to let go of the “security-blanket” that books have always provided for us.”

    Good point.

    “A book is not a format — it’s not a bunch of pages and a cover. A book is what it conveys, it’s what’s on the inside, it’s what the author is trying to tell you. It’s the imagination and the ideas and the prose and the soaring feeling it gives you when you’ve read something exquisite. It’s what makes you cry with heartbreak or giggle with amusement.”

    Good point yet again.

    I admit that my thoughts on this issue are emotional, and I have trouble being completely rational. But one thing for sure: I am more than willing to try a kindle-like device when they become more affordable.

  7. Yay, Lezlie! You’re my new BFF! I will read obsessively as well, no matter what.

  8. Nymeth — Woot! You know, I love your site and your ideas! I wish I had a bunch of Kindles to give out so that people can see what I’m trying to say. It’s really not scary or detrimental in any way – it’s just…different, that’s all.

    I agree that they do need to be a bit cheaper, and I think this will happen in time, like it does with all other new electronic doodads.

  9. I think what you say about the publishing industry is true, but it will only help the small and indi publishers who can churn out books on print on Demand. The same thing that happened to the music and film industry will happen to the book industry – the giants will fall.

    Let them!

    Also remember that a cheap paperback is a form of entertainment for lower and working class people, who, believe it or not, do not have computers in their homes. Their is still a market!

    Still, I saw someone reading this on the train the other day and I am interested. We cannot turn our backs on this.

  10. Stalherz — Perhaps the publishing giants will fall, and I agree with you to an extent. Maybe it’s time for the little guy to be given a chance to make it big in the publishing biz.

    Books on Kindle cost about the same as a paperback – maybe a dollar or two more – which is another reason why I think e-books are a force to be reckoned with.

  11. I can completely see both sides of the argument here. And I agree with both. Reading is emotional for me. I haven’t even seen a Kindle so I can’t comment personally but I do love being surrounded by my books. Again, it’s an emotional thing.

    You mentioned texting. I have a couple posts on my blogs where I get a lot of comments from high schoolers and middle schoolers. One look and I can immediately tell their age range. No punctuation, no spelling, no capitalization. It’s like reading a foreign language that I don’t understand. It’s almost as if they didn’t even make it out of kindergarten. I can see first hand how digital has “dumbed down” our kids. If e-books do become more accessible, I would only hope that kids writing would improve.

  12. […] to add: Here is the link to Chartroose’s rebuttal to my post and the comments therein. She’s right: my reasoning (and most of the comments) are […]

  13. Thanks, Natasha! I’m really worried about our decline in literacy. Maybe e-books could help with this somewhat because kids like to fool around with electronics. It certainly can’t hurt!

    I just checked out your blog. It’s really neat! I’m adding you to my blogroll and bloglines feed.

  14. I have a Kindle question.. not sure if you’ll know the answer.. but once you buy a book electronically, can you lend it to a friend if they also have a Kindle, the way you can lend paper books?

  15. Lisa —

    I don’t think you can, which is one of the pitfalls. I also think your purchases are erased after 10 years or so.

  16. I sometimes download etexts from project gutenberg and use them on my handheld device–but I think the kindle seems limiting with the digital rights. I haven’t tried it though. I agree with you Chartroose–the words should be the most important thing. I ended up reading East of Eden electronically and the words were so powerful, it didn’t matter to me what format I was reading them!

  17. Stopping by your blog from weekly geeks! I had never heard of a Kindle until now! Wow! I’m off to learn more about it after I visit a few more blogs. To me it sounds really awesome.

  18. Thank you Juli! I’ll be checking out your site too.

  19. So far my dislike of the idea of Kindle has been purely emotional. You’ve made me reconsider! But there is one thing I don’t know how to get around: reading text on a screen always ends up giving me a headache. Print on paper doesn’t. If they can make electronic reading devices that don’t emit light and give me headaches, I’ll probably end up using them!

  20. Jeane –
    I thought glare would be a problem too, but it really isn’t. The screen is non-glare and neutral colored, so it’s easy on the eyes. If I make the font large enough, I can sometimes read the Kindle without my glasses, which is amazing because I have terrible vision. This has to be in the morning when my eyes aren’t tired, though.

  21. […] A KINDLE, I’ve since changed my mind (long before this drawing happened!) and must admit that Chartroose was right and I was wrong. *blech ech gag* (that was me eating my words…they don’t taste too […]


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