Friday, April 1, 2011

Farewell to the Printed Page

Novelist Jane Smiley once described a book as "a small, rectangular, boxlike object a few inches long, a few inches wide, and an inch or so thick. It is easy to stack and store, easy to buy, keep, give away, or throw away."

But with the emergence of e-readers, I'm afraid books are an endangered species.
As a rule, I'm opposed to e-readers. Yes, a case can be made in their favor. The phrase 'save a tree' comes immediately to mind. E-readers can hold hundreds, maybe thousands of books, yet fit easily into your backpack or hip pocket. Having one enables you to take a small library with you wherever you go.

But they are still a device – an electronic thing. They look like a device, feel like a device, and perhaps worst of all, smell like a device.

Nothing smells like a book.

(I was going to say "nothing smells as good as a book," but that's getting too subjective. What about bacon?)

Are e-readers a passing fancy or the wave of the future? I suspect it is the latter. I don't think books as we know them now will become extinct any time soon. But overall trends suggest to me that in the not-too-distant future, virtually all information will be Internet-based. Music is increasingly delivered to us via the Internet, and movies and video are close behind.

Books, assuming people keep reading, will follow the trend. (It can't escape notice that this very thing you're reading is electronic!)

This is all rather obvious, of course. 

Much as my parents decried the loss of classic radio and its golden age, those in my age group will seem like crotchety fuddy-duddies to our own kids. They will likely cringe listening to us decry the loss of a well-bound hardcover – or even a humble, mass market paperback.

"Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book," Jane Smiley said. I'm among them, too. And I'm going to miss them when they're gone.

Both Jane Smiley quotes are from her book 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, hardcover edition, p. 14.

No comments:

Post a Comment