Saturday, December 18, 2010

v2, d233: It's like in that one book.

This disturbing bit of news says the book stores are doomed.

Let's face it, this has been in the works for awhile. And there's nothing saying it's definitely going to happen anytime soon. But dang, the combination of and the kindle have pretty much put the kibosh on the traditional book store. I honestly wonder if one day we won't even have a use for paper anymore. (Which will be good news for trees, I suspect)

Fun fact: A former coworker was driving through the flat flat flatness of west Texas and asked if there were any trees. When she was assured that there were, in fact, very few trees in the area, she commented, "Wow. I wonder where they get their paper."

Or something to that effect. It was a long time ago.

Anyway, as a guy who wants to be a writer when he grows up (or when his home PC turns on again someday), this obviously makes me really very sad. And I suppose, practically speaking, that it shouldn't. If we get rid of physical books, authors will still get paid to write stories. They just won't be printed and bound anymore. They'll exist as coded information projected onto screens. Or directly into the brain. Who knows? Those who read will read. And there's always the chance that books will never completely phase out. I'm hoping there are enough curmudgeons like myself in this generation who won't be satisfied reading the unabridged Les Miserables with anything less than sixteen-hundred sheets of paper between our hands. (Cause really, where's the sense of accomplishment if you can't shut the book, look at where your bookmark is, and gauge how close/far to/from the middle/end of the book you are?) I know there's no functional difference between sitting on a picnic blanket and reading your kindle with your college sweetheart on a sunny spring afternoon and doing the same with a couple of books. I get that a generation that grows up with Smart Phones and Wii-motes could easily develop as strong and as genuine an affinity curling up with an e-book as I have for laying in bed with a paperback. I hope it isn't just me standing in the way of progress, but...I really feel that if we lose books, we lose something. I'm not sure what, exactly, but as a people, we lose.

Look, I know I'm old school in just about everything. As Kim put it, we (as a couple) are so far from the status quo, we're not even on the bell curve. (Have I mentioned she's a research scientist?) But I hope books never go away. I'm not against kindles. I actually think they're pretty cool. I think it'd be a pretty handy thing to have if e'er I were to go on a long trip (providing the books I want to read were actually available on a kindle). But I'd use it more like an iPod than a library. If I want to own a book, I'll probably always want to physically own the book. I want to hand it to a friend sometime and say, "Here, I think you'll like this." I want my son to find it lying on the coffee table sometime when he's in high school and decide on a whim to try it out. I want to not lose my entire library because I've lost or dropped another gadget. Or one of my kids gave it a bath in Mountain Dew. Or some foul-mouthed middle schooler at the movie theater stole it. A kindle can make for a great toy. But it'd be a horrible bookshelf.

Now, it may be the case that this article really only means the bookstores themselves are on the way out, but books will live on through online retailing. And maybe Wal-Mart. And Oprah. Which would also be kind of sad, but not quite as tragic. I know I speak for at least half of my meager reading audience when I say it can be nice to wander into a Borders and spend an hour thumbing through things until you find something worth giving $14.99 worth of a chance to.

Anyway, now we're just waiting for the rash of futuristic sci-fi stories in which books have all been replaced by digital images and stories beamed directly into our heads and the total breakdown of human freewill that somehow results. And then a good-looking man leads a rag-tag bunch of rebels into the Head of the Evil Government, ironically located in the Library of Congress, with a flamethrower in one hand and a leather-bound copy of Paradise Lost in the other.

Hey, extra credit assignment: If you haven't bought anybody a book for a Christmas present yet this month, go buy one this week. Figure out someone who'd like a book and buy it from them. At a bookstore. Maybe a copy of Paradise Lost that you can pass down for generations to come.

Just in case.