Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Book Nerd strikes again & A Visit to Fahrenheit Books

By the time I was in third grade I was a good reader. And I read vociferously. I got a book each month from the book of the month club but that was hardly enough to keep me satisfied as I often had that read before the weekend had ended. Reading was my whole world and my greatest memories from my childhood are of the books I read, most often deep into the night, long after a ten or eleven year old should have been tucked safely between sheets with the lights long out.  
Driving downtown to a favorite bookstore
Typically girl, I read about horses and dreamt of horses and wanted to own a horse. A friend of mine had a horse and she loved reading about horses so once in a while we got together at my house had a sleepover so that we could read out loud to each other, late into the night. 
Fahrenheit Books is on Broadway-- just north of Alameda. 
As I grew older, my fantasy of owning a horse lessened but reading still played a central part in my life, 
in opening up the world to a sheltered child who knew little (or nothing!) about anyone or anything outside the community she grew up in. The magic filled world of C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L'Engle (I loved the Mrs. Who, Which, and Whatsits and I always wanted to have a kitchen filled with wonderful smells while I worked nearby like Meg's mother) are tangible memories of childhood, not the supplements that others might recall.  
William, Fahrenheit's owner, stacks his shelves to the brim
So it's no surprise that I am still drawn to the page as an adult and that the Nook and the Kindle are less than inviting devices to my page accustomed eye and I cannot reckon myself with the idea of snuggling into bed with a metallic device at night, no solid page to turn, no faint smell of the page to comfort me. New books, in particular, have an aroma that is quite pleasant and I thrill at the feel of a newly opened tome. 
William has many a collectible.
But the book is more than a sentiment of a generation... 
Don DeLillo is one of the many authors I do collect. 
 Writing is part of our "modern" history. The Egyptians began writing about 5000 years ago and for about 4500 years reading was pretty laborious and expensive as reproducing one text took a great deal of time and effort. With the advent of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg (the Chinese had invented a movable type in 1045 although there are no known examples) in 1450, the western world was changed forever and irrevocably for the better as it allowed common people access to information that they had never had before.  
First edition books abound in William's little shop. Don't you want to drool?
And now we have the ebook which some would like to claim is just the next step in book evolution. Yet a Nook is $150 just for the black and white model while the Kindle is a mere $20 less and the IPad? It's starts at $499... chump change, right? But that's just the beginning because the Kindle only works with Amazon products and they are around $10.00 each (they are very territorial so don't try to download books from your local library). Barnes and Noble's ebooks are similarly priced but it does appear that you can download any PDF file to the Nook so you can check out a library ebook to the Nook.  So how is this evolution spreading information? How is this making knowledge more accessible? 
Borges biography
Recently a coworker made the claim to me that more books would be published since the publishers would have less overhead and would be able to publish a book for next to nothing. True enough that there is no cost of paper, but the cost of printing a book is negligible already. The real cost in publishing is in advertising. New authors rarely get published because publishers spend so much money advertising that they don't make enough to make the gamble worthwhile. On the other hand a recognizable name needs hardly any advertising and often sells (and even becomes a best seller!) whether the book is well written or not.  This problem won't change no matter the format. How does that open up the possibilities of being published to a new author?
Rikki Ducornet's amazing book 'Gazelle'- a must read, if you haven't yet.
 And as for the added technology that is part of the appeal of this new technology... at bedtime, when I turn off my computer, turn on my lamp on the nightstand and cuddle up under my blanket with my book, I am alone with my book. I don't check my email anymore and I don't take one last peak to see who didn't comment on my blog. It is me and Hemingway or Paul West (depending on which one I pick up) and my honey until my head drops down onto my pillow into slumber.  
A bibliophiles dream
And that touches upon my real concern... We, as a culture are being blasted with infotainment and we are not prepared to handle all the information or to disseminate fact from fiction in many cases. Television, for the most part, is a vast wasteland of misinformation and finding out the facts from today's mainstream media television personalities is next to impossible. The internet helps (for now) because you can find sources that might be closed to you and I otherwise, which means there is the potential for finding information. But you have to know where to look and how to look- you have to have some intelligence about research. And you have to know who you can trust and who you can't. But the added problem with the internet is that we are allowing our brains to be pummeled with busyness, all hours of the day. We go for walks and talk on the phone or check our email. We ride the bus and text our friends, chat and check our schedules. When we're working, we're writing an email, browsing the web, talking to a customer, and checking out email, etc., etc., etc. You get the point. We're multitasking ourselves into oblivion.    
'The Archivist' by Martha Cooley ~ lovely reading 
So now we cannot even read a book without having the interruption of "Dictionary lookup, notes, and highlights," AND... guess what? "browse the Web"!. 
In addition there is the problem of loss of material. They brilliantly claim they offer "1.8 million free out-of-copyright books such as Pride and Prejudice" but here's the thing that readers should know-- there are many, many books that are not going to be offered on ebook and that are being destroyed because libraries and even The Library of Congress no longer values paper bound copies (we're a throw-away-we-can-save-everything-to-digital-society right?) and while they are ostensibly saving the most valuable material, much of it is being missed or pages are being missed, etc. Libraries are no longer interested in archiving older materials that might have been used for research and so research material is being lost because the eye of the beholder does not see it as valuable or simply misses it in the mass of material that is being handled...     
William is hidden behind a mountain of books on his counter.
And what is to become of a society that no longer values the older materials of their past and has access to them only via an expensive piece of technology that fewer and fewer can afford (let alone the additional cost of books!)? I surmise that information will once again be in the hands of The Few (read: The Wealthy) as it was in a darker time, long, long ago before Mr. Gutenburg made books available to the Common Person. And if we bemoan our undereducated society now, just imagine what it will be as less and less information becomes available to the average person. (And while I am on that topic, I might remind readers that libraries are closing in cities all over the country-- Aurora, Colorado one of the largest cities in Colorado closed all but three of theirs in January and Denver will be shortening hours on many branches this year. Who knows what will happen next year as city budgets continue to be cut. But if ebooks become the wave of the future, it won't matter anyway, I suppose because there won't be many books on the shelves for anyone to read.) 

And the odds of our children lying under covers with their noses pressed into books, soaring out into the universe on the wings of Mrs Who or Mrs. Which are next to nill as they will become bored with the idea of reading at night and find themselves distracted with an online game, get caught, and be told to hand over the game and go to sleep.   

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