Monday, March 16, 2009

The new book?


The death of the book, that paginated, bounded thing we carry around with us, dog-eared and highlighted, a friend to turn to in the moments when our attention isn't spent talking about what others want you to hear? The romantic in me says no, I want my books to be forever things, and love the illusion , now waning, that bookstores will be with us forever, but I did someone the other day using Amazon.com's reading device Kindle recently, and without bother describing it too much, the ease and comfort of use looked very, very appealing. Books in a another form, perhaps, abetted by a different delivery system? Probally so.


I can see the future of selling books being in on line downloads from a seller like Amazon or Barnes and Nobel, but I don’t think anyone will ever get in the habit of reading whole books from their computer screens, as a general habit. Rather, I suspect the fate of reading lies in reading devices that have a comfort and ease of use ; the issue, I think, is portability, since the basic advantage of the book over an internet text is that the book can become something of an intimate partner with you as you go places, travel, or just sit in a comfy chair , absorbing and considering the prose or poetry you’re witness to. There’s a need most readers have, older or younger, for the physicality of holding a book as they read –that seems to the way things stay in mind after a book is finished. So many column inches of prose I’ve read on line over the last ten years has stayed with me, superb as the writing may have been: all that wit and wisdom has vanished in the ether, passively taken in and mindlessly expelled like microwave cooking.

Not nearly as high; the attrition of the print material from memory is due more to the sheer volume of books I’ve read during my fifty six years. Getting older takes a toll. The point, though, is that what I’ve read with books, those intimate, portable, bendable, malleable objects that contain our language, has become integrated over time–the content and ideas have been better assimilated than from the materials I read on line. It might be a generational difference, I’ll concede, but I think it’s a safe guess that people won’t be reading from computer monitors, cell phones, lap tops or net books; they’ll prefer something cozier, like Amazon’s Kindle device for the book downloads they sell–it seems a device that invites the interaction between reader and the page that are the biggest allure of books over on line reading.

The move toward buying books via download is inevitable, in my view, and the real issue is what one means by “hard copy”. Without indulging in knee-jerk Tofflerism, my current best guess that book buyers will prefer a device like Kindle , or something similar, to reading books either on line or from a computer monitor: as I said before, portability and ease of use are key for the consumer instinct.