I was struck last night that it’s quite an antiquated art form we practice these days. I was looking at the glowing screen of my high tech laptop and fiddling with drafts on a tiny little USB drive on my keychain and all of the other technology we use to basically put words on a page. No pictures, no video, no high definition graphics or sounds or anything. Black words on a white page.

And yet this art form has survived an onslaught of competing entertainments. Radio should have killed it. Television should have killed it. Video games and now portable DVD players should have killed it. Why do people still read books?

Until recently, I suspect the portability of books were their chief benefit. You hear the term beach book, airplane book, train book, solitary confinement book, etc. For a long trip, or a long wait, there’s nothing better than 300 or so lightweight pages crammed between two covers and bought for under 10 bucks. Hardcover books exist mainly for libraries, collectors, bibliophiles, and those with much disposable money who want to be the first to read the new hot book.

But with the rise of ipods, portable DVD players, portable video game systems, and the like, will books remain a viable travel and entertainment distraction? I think so because they are still the cheapest and most efficient for the dollar. Are these the only reasons for the survival of books or is there some inherent joy from words on a page that can only be had through books, or stories, etc.? I think the market for online short stories and novellas will only continue to grow and ebooks will eventually make a stronger stand and become a large part of the publishing scene but I suspect physical books will still remain, mostly as a prestige symbol.

Maybe I’m just saying all of this to justify my spending six months or more writing this next novel. What do you all think? Is this just rehashing an ages old debate?

7 thoughts on “

  1. Personally I can’t read very much on the screen – even a flat screen with no refresh – without my eyes crossing, so I prefer paper books. It’s just easier to absorb information IMO.

  2. I just think reading is fun. I like TV and radio, but reading is something I can do all alone, wrapping myself up in a whole other world, and I can stay there as long as I want.Plus, some of us are visual learners. Tell me something and it doesn’t register in my brain. Write it down and I read it once and know it forever.

  3. I love books, but then, I’m old.I like the way the feel, their weight, the smell of the ink on paper, riffling the pages, the typefaces an art director carefully selected and laid out, the cover art, the title page, the publisher’s logo, all of it. I love it all. And 3k is all I can read on screen.

  4. I’ve noticed something odd. Every few years, Bill Gates comes out and touts a paperless society, as does Steve Jobs. And every time, people ignore them. I thought maybe it was just us older Gen X’rs, who found Pong to be a marvel of high technology for about five minutes in 1976, can’t read much on the screen for extended periods.Then I started hearing Gen Y people, people born during the Reagan Administration or later, saying they can’t stare at a screen that long, either.Let’s face it. The computer is horrible for the written word. And reading is a vastly different experience than watching a movie or listening to music. Music, of course, is audible, and all that happens with each new technology is a format change. Video is fine on the eyes because the colors change constantly. The mind is fooled into accepting it as reality.But reading involves and stimulates a whole other section of the brain. And staring at a thousand little lightbulbs is a painful way to go about it.So books will survive. Newspapers might not, but books will.

  5. The technology issue is one I’m comfortable with, having read a handful of e-books.I think the real question here is: Will people keep reading stories? Of novel length in particular.With kids being stimulated so much, they’re all growing up with shorter attention spans and I worry about the future of the written word. I’m not going to make any predictions, but a technological solution to the e-book problem, one that makes reading a joy, is possibly one of the only truly long term ways to keep the good old book around. Not everywhere humans will be will have easy access to trees you know. We need the book world’s equivalent of the iPod.Only Apple can save us.

  6. Actually computers are wonderful for books — but only at the writing stage. I take it, nobody here has tried to use a typewriter.As for reading them on a screen. No, I wouldn’t like it. And the one book of mine which is also available as an e-book has performed dismally in terms of sales.

  7. Most days in the past three-four years, I’ve pretty much become convinced the fiction publishing business is dead.When a writer as talented as JA Konrath, David Terrenoire, or Jeff Shelby has to write eight, nine or ten novels before getting published something is wrong.I’ve been writing full time, now, for five years straight. I’m finishing up my eigth novel this next week, and the books are by and large good.When you look at the generation before us, guys like Dean Koontz, Steve King, James Patterson built their career on novels more poorly written than most of our generation’s first 7-12 (unpublished) novels.Thank God I’ve got a wife who supports me, and thank God I’ve gotten a couple of nods (the SMP/PWA Best PI Novel finalist) because otherwise I’d have nothing to show for twelve years of writing.I think the case could be made, that the fiction publishing industry is all but dead.Of course, the people we all know read because we’re all writers. But you’re not seeing the forest for the trees if you think that’s a general trend in our culture at large.SC

Comments are closed.