Sunday, July 21, 2013

I want to be a time traveler

My friend had a baby recently and I can't help but wonder what is in store for this wee one. As I held her, I wondered if these teeny hands would ever brush their hands over the pages of a lush illustration the way I did when I was little. Would they turn the page of There's a Monster at the End of this Book when Grover begs in anguish, "No! Don't turn the page!!!!!" the way my children did. Of course I know that this little one will because her mother is committed to books- she works in the library and doesn't even own a digital device although is well versed in how to use them. But whether they will be available with the same I-can-take-this-for-granted kind of availability? I doubt it.

With the news of Barnes and Noble's recent collision with a metaphorical financial iceberg, books available in neighborhood bookstores are quickly going the way of the Tyrannosaurus Rex- which makes me sad. In a recent article on GeekWire, author Guzman says, "books speak with more than words. They speak with pictures and size and even smell. With sound, too — the whip flip of a page turn. You hold a book open and need a surface to handle a hardcover’s weight. A book has resistance. It makes demands. You have to carry it, put it away, give it a physical space in your physical life. What if that isn’t, as I’ve come to look at it, purely an inconvenience? What if it’s a sign of mutual respect? After I finished the amazing “The City and the City” on my Kindle, I couldn’t remember the author’s last name. It didn’t stare at me every time I went to read the story. At Elliott Bay I saw the book, “China MiĆ©ville” printed big and bold on the front, and felt like I was in the presence of something new." While I was reading her article I was thinking to myself how much I love my bookshelf- that I look at the books and see a title I've read and I remember the author, the time I spent reading it... I may not reread the book, but the book itself holds something special for me. (My albums and Cds have a similar feeling for me-love or like- something my itunes folder will never replace no matter how many times I listen to the songs. I have held on to sheet music from college for the same reason.) 

It's not just nostalgia that makes me cling to books. When I was a kid, my folks were quite poor and we couldn't afford to purchase as many books as I could actually read. I read voraciously so the library was my friend. We were the kind of poor that didn't have a television when all my friends had televisions- or we'd have one but it would break down and my uncle would fix it but it would take months for him to fix it so all the entertainment I would have would be my little green box radio and my books. But it was fine as long as there was a library close by.

Now years later and working at a library myself, I know that there are still many people who are too poor to have Nooks, Kindles or iPads and if the library were not available to them, they would not have access to books. If there are fewer books being sold then there will be fewer books available for sale to the library because publishers will lose a retail outlets to sell their wares in which means they will lose profits and go out of business. It's a vicious cycle that scares me. I may keep my job because librarians are vigilant and always ready to reinvent the library to fit what society needs. Nevertheless... libraries will not be what they once were which is another sad thing, I guess.  

Don't get me wrong! I am not fundamentally opposed to ebooks -for instance as an author I think they open opportunities for publishing where a vanity press is mostly taking advantage of authors. And as a tech lover I think they're fun when I have a magazine I want to read that I don't want to mess around with for very long. But as a reader, the truth of the article on GeekWire felt fundamentally true to me and I couldn't shake the feeling that we are losing something culturally if Barnes and Noble becomes an artifact of ancient history.

So, I want to be a time traveler- I don't want to only travel I want to change time. Maybe I'll go into the facility where they are developing the first ereader and sabotage it... anything to keep the book from going extinct. Anything to keep bookstores from disappearing from my neighborhood...

Anyone want to join me? I might need help...     


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