A Canadian Mennonite's sodden sermonizing on movies, music, miscellaneous.
I've been reading a few things on the iPhone since the job change gave me reason to have one earlier this year. It's nice to always have a few books with you — or rather a few texts. But my own little bit of experience makes me doubtful about calling the book & its bookshelf suddenly obsolescing technologies. There are a lot of different kinds of reading happening — maybe more kinds than there were not so long ago — aren't there? A lot of reading still happens best with a book with pages related to one another physically as pages. Or with several books, say, open at once. (Or a book and a couple of web pages and a freaking newspaper.) Admittedly, not much of this kind of reading would be fiction, for instance. Still, although market transformation is absolutely a given, what I'm hearing sounds more like de-bloating and reapportioning than fading and being supplanted by something essentially new. The kind of people who always bought books are still buying books. That seems fundamental. Publishers not being able to operate predictively on the assumption of that fact in the same way they've always done is another thing.Or have I just got my head in the sand?
I don't think Richler is suggesting the book & bookshelf are becoming obsolete; I think he's saying the medium and its consumers are becoming rarefied. Speaking as a book-buying person, I'm still very much in the habit. But with the advent of digital content I'm becoming ever more ruthless about the books I give away to the library and the ones that stay on my shelves.One aspect that he doesn't explore enough to my satisfaction is the sale of used books on the internet. If I recall rightly, one of the more famous Berkeley bookstores to fold was bitter about this particular trend, because it could no longer rely on students buying the usual Penguin Classics, etc. when people were selling them for a nickel on Amazon. A quick visit to ABE reveals that the field of play is more vast than that. Soon-to-be-released books are sold as galley proofs for a fraction of what the new book will cost, when it eventually hits the market. If the intended market is almost negligible, you can see the obliterating effect this trend can have.But that falls under the umbrella of publishers failing to anticipate consumer capacity. Still, if publishers have relied on these common sales to grease the rails of their attempts at expedition, that certainly has an effect on ... well, on us all.
Yeah, I guess obsolescence isn't the word for what he's forecasting. On the other hand, his finding his library 'arcane' & 'quaint', there at the end, does seem to me to tinge the whole thing with something darkish, some epoch-closing drama that his observations — though dramatic in their way — don't seem to require.Well, what would be interesting to see — I guess it's out there in discussion being written already, but not the kind of thing I'm keeping eyes open enough for (instead, relying on you for that, it seems) — is some present-facts-based conjecture about the book business's evolution to come, not stopping with what's no longer going to have much promise for authors or houses but going on to consider the more agile and perhaps even (who knows?) expansive shapes that book producing-selling-distributing may take. What other sorts of opportunities are there in the gaps failing bookstores leave, for instance, besides the ones Amazon or ABE fills? What relationships are discoverable between text-sharing as Google or Stanza offers it and limited book-acquiring as some large (and potentially growing) population of readers will continue to expect it? Seems like there's a lot to be explored in the interstices. Mm, trendy vocabulary.Not having lived with any kind of convenient access to a great bookstore in Berkeley or elsewhere — life-long suburb-dweller, in other words, knowing those places only as an occasional visitor — it's left to me only to show love for ABE, for present. (Most recently, J M Fitch's 2-vol. American Building, which came to me in reasonably clean shape from two sellers in different parts of the country for a total of about $10. Having the bookstore in front of you whenever you're at your desk reading, say, an article about someone who published something important a half-century ago: it seems like the positives in that must be greater, on the whole, than the negatives. Still, though, uncovering them ...)
I would substitute "Troublesome & Troubling" for Richler's "Arcane & Quaint." The older I get, the less I like to collect books I'm sure I'll only read once. I'm happy to pass along most of my purchases to the local library, and they keep assuring me they're happy to receive them. So long as a few more people read the product, I'm more or less at peace with the arrangement. But if I pick up something that only I have any interest in, and that interest is quickly satisfied by a single read, the economy and ecology of the publishing process in the current environment seems increasingly suspect.Also, these "interstices" you make reference to are certainly having an effect on my own mentality when it comes to publicly committing words to the internet. From the get-go I thought of blogging as a type of sky-writing, with little chance of longevity. As this enterprise continues, that sense is reinforced. And that, in turn, has an effect on the way I read. I no longer feel like I absolutely need hard-copy to enter the fictive dream, or the essayist's narrative. I still prefer hard-copy in some situations, but am beginning to wonder if that might not change as well.The musing continues...
Here's a saver: instead of ending in a landfill, they're worked up as high style atmosphere lighting for home & office.
There is also the book chair, but maybe that's already old news.
Hadn't seen that one. But you've reminded me of this — which I think might be more to your own taste. : )
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