Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Thinginess of Books

The Los Angeles Times ran an article yesterday about the future of books. They looked at the question of whether we’ll eventually be totally digital and whether we as a culture value the print book anymore.
What is amazing and inspiring about books is just that: their very physicality, the sheer thinginess of them, the fact that you can hold a book in your hands, thump a couple of knuckles on the cover, riffle the pages.

Even though they posed the above question, they then went on to ask:
Yet in an age in which computers are as common as cockroaches, in which the Internet is king, in which seemingly every crumb of information is being sucked up and digitized in a busy blur, does the book -- the tangible kind, not the virtual version -- have a future?

The article concludes that the print book is not dead:
Last month, the Assn. of American Publishers reported that 2007 book sales were up 3.2% over 2006. Since 2002, the book business has seen a growth rate of 2.5% a year. And at the University of Chicago Library, the number of students slouching through the door topped the million mark last year for the first time.

But their conclusion is based less on the statistics than on the marvel of holding old books. They give examples of wonderful old tomes.
Besides computers, students can behold marvels that don't have to be plugged in, such as a newly acquired gem from the 14th century, "Le Roman de la Rose" ("The Romance of the Rose"), a beautifully illuminated manuscript created about 1365, based on the original by Guillaume de Lorris.

Despite their conclusion and their examples, from Galileo to Jacobus de Cessolis, I wonder if they will be proven correct. Will people five hundred years from now hold today’s book in awe and wonder, riffle the pages and be inspired by the thinginess of them? Or will print books go the way of hand-written books by monks and hand-presses?

Don’t count me among the doomsayers. I love books. I read them; I buy them; I treasure them. But I also don’t have an Ipod or a Kindle or a phone I could or would use to download a book. Will I someday be in the minority? Will I someday join the digital world? Will the digital world and the print world learn to co-exist, thrive even? What do you think?


  1. I have an ipod but I'd never think of trying to put a book on it. I like the tangibility of books. Ebooks just don't do it for me.

  2. I like print books, as well. I also like audio books for when I'm in the car. I've never read an ebook, but I wouldn't mind trying the Kindle, but don't want to spend the money to buy one. I can't really imagine myself reading an ebook, unless I'm traveling. Then I could see the value of having a way to take several books in a small, lightweight package.


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