Save the book

By Naomi Klouda
The Homer Public Library holds a book and plant sale Sept. 29. They are currently accepting donations of both books and plants, as a fundraiser for Friends of the Library. This raises a question of interest to us: Will the book sale be the beneficiary of people who switched from the real hard or soft-bound paper version of a book to a Nook, Kindle or iPad? Will books donated by the box loads be all the more plentiful because of the cultural switch?
That could be good and bad news. Good, because it could make for a more profitable fundraiser for the Friends of the Library – if there’s a grand turn out in both supply and demand for accumulating more books on the part of folks spending their money. I know I’ll be there to haul out my own deep stack. But do you perceive the irony?
According to way too many critics, the book in its hard and soft bound forms are doomed. What might this mean for libraries? Not necessarily doom, because people aren’t going to quit reading. They’ll go to the library to load new and ancient volumes on their Kindles. It was the Friends of the Library who raised the funds to buy the Kindles currently available for patrons to check out, no doubt funded in part from people selling off their books.
Along with any cultural change, fear takes hold of a heart. The automobile posed a horror approaching terror when it first came out. Laura Ingles Wilder nearly got ran over in San Francisco when she visited there in 1914. The prairie girl’s near accident occurred because no opportunity had presented itself previously in her life to teach her how to cross a busy street of honking machines instead of braying horses.
Machines are evil in certain minds, understandably. The assembly line replaced workers, and now even the assembly line isn’t common. Millions lost jobs and continue to lose jobs. It used to take an entire back room of people who knew how to work a scapula and a hot glue machine to set news columns and photos in perfectly aligned spaces. Now those folks are all moved along to hopefully parallel jobs or retirement. Typesetting and all is done now by one or two people desked up to page layout programs.
But the book, the hard bound thing that rests in a lap and eases one’s thoughts at the end of the day, won’t it always be with us? Can a little handheld machine really do the same job? Some of us are not convinced.
If books are moving to devices, where content is free and time is thin-sliced rather than three dimensional, what’s the level of appreciation? Where’s the aesthetics? Can you finger the cover or skip to the middle or effortlessly locate the author’s one paragraph bio on the back leaf? Is it constructed from a natural product, paper, or a piece of plastic that can be stomped on and ruined if you forget it on the floor? Does it have to get plugged into the wall and recharged, and while it’s recharging, you can’t find out if Libby Beaman sneaks out of the house to view the fur seals at St. Paul?
OK, so maybe you can read while it’s getting charged. Still.
Books traditionally go through a rigorous process to get published. Just ask any writer how long it took to get from a story’s conception to book form, and you’ll hear an unbelievably patient tale. Nowadays people are getting published online without that time-table of scrutiny and revision, and editing and more editing. There may well be quality as a quick job, but for the most part, it won’t be. So all those free ebook downloads available now might not satisfy in the long run.
New York Times bestselling author Michael Levin recently wrote a book outlining the doomsday ahead for books in their historic form. Amongst the gloom, he gives worthy words of warning for why we should guard against a downhill climb in serious reading, whether we do it by Kindle or binded paper. “The winners, going forward, will be that minority who still read and think for themselves. It’s a lot easier for government, the military, and the corporate world to control the way people think if they aren’t reading for themselves.  That ought to be reason enough to save the book.”

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Posted by on Sep 19th, 2012 and filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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