Beau Bennett 1977 - 1996
Bonnie Raitt at 55

The Future of Books

category_bug_journal2.gif Ever since my mother taught me to read at age three, books have entertained me, educated me, infuriated and exhilarated me. Their presence comforts my soul.

I love books and they are all over my house. They fill every available shelf, spill over into every nook and cranny, are stacked on tables, in corners and stuffed in cupboards. And there will be more - my Amazon Wish List runneth over.

Every year or so, I promise myself that no new books may come into the house unless an equal number leave and I’m serious about it, I really mean it – until I buy the next book – because although there are many I am unlikely to ever open again, you never can tell, and it’s my experience in life that as soon as you get rid of a book, you need it again.

When computers first became a presence in our lives, when we began using them in our jobs but before we all had our own, there was talk they would replace books, that in the future everything would be available digitally and we would read Moby Dick, Shakespeare and the latest political thriller on screens.

“Never!” I said. Computers have their place, but I intend to be the crazy old book lady that kids point to as hopelessly old-fashioned, my home musty and dusty with a lifetime collection of thousands of volumes. They would become antiques, collector’s items of a time gone by after I died. Maybe someone would then turn my house into a museum to show how life used to be before books disappeared.

Such has not come to pass and in fact, I read somewhere that book buying has increased in recent years. But now there is word that college libraries are cutting their collections:

“…as college students headed back to the University of Texas this fall, they found the main undergraduate library there missing a key ingredient: books.”
- The Christian Science Monitor, 7 October 2005

A New York Times story earlier this year reported that colleges are building “digital learning laboratories” and according to Geneva Henry of Rice University in Houston,

“The library is not so much a space where books are held as where ideas are shared. It’s having a conversation rather than homing in on a book.”
- quoted in The Christian Science Monitor, 7 October 2005

As the reporter notes, however, digital learning and book learning are two different things:

“There is no question,” he writes, “that the online researcher can access material never available inside one set of walls and under one roof. In fact, the internet lays at a scholar’s feet resources from all over the globe. Yet by its very nature the online world is geared to deliver quick facts. Because eyes quickly tire of gazing at a computer screen, serious contemplation is discouraged…We believe that serious students must have access to both books and the wide world of online resources.”

These days, I have trouble imagining how I got through everyday life without the internet. Need to know who Franklin Roosevelt’s first vice president was? A couple of mouse clicks, a few keystrokes and it’s on the screen in seconds. Can’t remember if Warren Beatty wrote or produced Reds, or both? Before the Internet Movie Database, I had to trek to the library to find out.

But the internet can never be a substitute for reading books. Listen to Alberto Manguel, the author of A History of Reading whom the Christian Science Monitor writer quotes:

“There are characters in books that become our own because they speak to us as intimately as if they’d been imagined for us, and define us as forcefully as the first time we meet a great teacher or the first time we fall in love…

“It is relatively easy to be superficially literate, to follow a sitcom, to understand an advertising joke, to read a political message, to chat online. But to go further and deeper…we need to learn to read in other ways, differently, in order to learn to think.”

How is it, do you think, that college-level educators,the people who are experts in teaching, the ones ditching books in favor of “digital learning laboratories” don’t understand that? My home may yet be turned into a museum when I die.

Comments

In the UK during the 1960s it was universities that tore down hundreds of exquisite, irreplaceable 18th and 19th century buildings in favour of concrete monstrosities. Those universities had depts of art, architecture, civil engineering, history, town planning, etc, and imo, that makes them morally more culpable than a commercial developer doing the same thing. I think what you're writing about smacks of the same flavour.

Academia has its fashions and fads and has a number of people who need to make their mark somehow and that takes precedence (sadly) over other things.

And...how could you hold your 3 year old child in your lap, wrapped in your arms, while he points to and touches the pages, as you read Goodnight Moon together, if it only appeared on a computer screen?

And how does one even think about going to sleep without a sleeping pill, or a cup of hot milk, or with dog sand in the bed, with torn window blinds that leave a light beaming in the eye, or with polyester sheets? With the magic calm and comfort of a good book, of course!

The answer lies in the physical delights of a book; like your readers have commented, the touch, smell, and heft of a book is special and defies electronic reconstitution.

A bond between readers and a printed page is undeniable.

Yep, books are never going to lose their appeal. Trouble is, this internet thing has seriously eroded what otherwise would have been cherished reading time.

One thing I remember from my childhood is the smell of a bookstore. It was a rare visit to a bookstore as we didn't have a shop devoted just to books in the town near where I grew up.

I loved the thought of all the possibilities upon entering a bookstore and still love it even though for me to buy a new book these days is a luxury.

One cannot get the same memory of smell from the internet.

You are right. The Internet can never be a substitute for books. I also read that US colleges were trimming their book collections and banking on digital libraries. But an e-book is just not the same thing as a "proper" book. Curling up with a book, turning the pages, can be a pleasure unmatched by scrolling through an e-book. Books age with time, the pages grow brittle, and need proper care just like us.

Information retieval, fact finding and research, gimme the internet. For entertainment and enjoyment, there's just nothing cozy and comforting about curling up with a keyboard and monitor. For that, and for absorbtion, can't beat books.

"I had to trek to the library to find out."

Me too. Although the internet is interesting and useful in so many ways, I still enjoy going to our neighborhood library on occassion and just browsing to see if a title jumps out at me. Of all things, the last time I browsed the book that called to me was " A writer's Diary" by Dostoevsky. ( Of all the books in ther library that is the last one I would have chosen as I have never read Dostoevsky)

I sat and read it for awhile and then checked it out. It has some interesting passsages and will make for fine dipping in and out of.Here is a quote:

"What is talent? Talent first of all is a most useful thing. Literary talent, for example, is the ability to say or express well what a mediocrity would say and express poorly."

I read mostly fiction except for the New York Times and our daily newspaper and the occasional biography but I enjoy being surprised by a book lurking on the library shelf waiting just for me to come by.

Randi said
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And...how could you hold your 3 year old child in your lap, wrapped in your arms, while he points to and touches the pages, as you read Goodnight Moon together, if it only appeared on a computer screen?
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You are so right but now I am reading to my small grandchildren and there is nothing like having them snuggle up to me as I read to them. The older ones in first and third grades are good readers now so my snuggling and reading time with them is almost past, but little Marie is just 5 and she loves to listen to me read to her.

Childhood slips by too fast.

If you want others to benefit from your surplus books you should consider joining bookcrossing.com. This is a site that encourages people to pass on books by leaving them in unusual or frequently visited places. You note inside what Book Crossing is all about so the person who finds the book undersatnds and may even 'release' books themselves. It's a great way of putting 'old friends' to good use when you're looking for space to store your 'new friends'

My "neighborhood" library also puts surplus books to good use. Not the used library books they are ready to toss but a great variety of books, many best sellers in pristine condition. Every month the group known as " Friends of Northside Library" has a book sale with the proceeds going to that branch. Anytime during the preceeding month people can drop off in a bin, their surplus books for resale. It is such fun to go browse thru the hardcover, paperbacks, children's, bios,art books mysteries and so on. The prices are so very reasonable and I have discovered several authors new to me that I would not have read. For instance, Elizabeth George, who writes mysteries with a British setting. When I can buy a hardback for $3.00 and then return it to the bin for resale if I choose not to keep it, then the reading pleasure is tripled because the library and other readers benefit.

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