Lee of Little Guardians recently shared a very interesting Key Note speech by Niel Gaiman on digital media, books, and the future of publishing. I’ve included the video below, but it definitely gave me a lot to think about. I love books. The feel, smell, and weight of them make me happy. I read books with an aggressive enthusiasm that eventually renders them battle-hardened warriors, their stained, wrinkled, and folded pages held together with scotch tape. My copy of my favorite book, The Deed of Paksenarion by Elizabeth Moon, has been taped back together no less than four times. I keep thinking about getting a new one, but when I see a crisp, clean, untouched version on the shelf at the bookstore, it just seems so wrong. That book was battered when it was handed down to me, and it has seen its fair share of travel, adventure, and handling since. It has taken on a totem-like quality, as though it’s a priceless relic that has somehow withstood the trials of time.
Still, I wonder if I am a dying breed. After all, there are many advantages to the Kindle. It’s lightweight, perfect for travel. When on airplanes, my carry-on bag heavy with the four or five books I’ve tried to squirrel away, I can’t help but look a little enviously at my Kindle-bearing neighbors, with hundreds of novels effortlessly transported in their sleek devices. I’ve heard many older readers celebrate the zoom function, free from the days where bright lights and much squinting were required to decipher type too small for aging eyes.
Is the book, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, a shark – something that was so good at being itself that nothing in nature has improved upon it in hundreds of thousands of years? Or are these glue-bound papers an endangered species, slowly dying out as their territory shrinks in a changing world?