Monday, May 24, 2010

The Beauty of the Book

I am a committed CBC Radio listener. If you are Canadian, that means something to you, if not, it may not. CBC is something like NPR, although personally, I find NPR really, really dry compared to CBC and much less quirky. CBC is one of those things that is uniquely Canadian and is almost beyond description. I prefer Radio One, which is primarily a talk format and my favourite programmes are the national ones - The Current, Ideas, Q, etc. I watch very little television, don't have time for reading a paper and yet, I like to be somewhat aware of what is going on in the world and I find CBC to be a pretty good source (although, if I am totally honest, there is a pseudo-intellectual, white, urban, uber-liberal tone that is starting to grate on my nerves, especially with certain programmes these days). Really, I think that why I really like CBC is that it appeals to my A.D.H.D. - I always need something to occupy my mind and especially when driving, music just doesn't do it (kind of a sad thing for a music grad to say!).

A couple of weeks ago, after small group at church, I turned on the radio to listen on my way home. It was later than usual and the programme on was Ideas. There was a panel discussion on the future of the book. It was totally fascinating. Unfortunately, it hasn't made it up onto their website yet as a downloadable archived show (should be up soon) but from what I can remember, it featured two publishers and a couple of authors, discussing the future of the physical book and the role that e-readers will play (e.g., the Kimble, the Kobo). I was surprised at my strong reaction to the opinions shared and how defensive I felt of the physical book.

I love to read. I always have a paperback in my purse, just in case I get stuck somewhere and have to kill some time. I MUST read in bed for at least 20 minutes before I go to sleep each night and if I am the first one up in the morning, once I have checked my email (another addiction), I have to find a quiet corner to read. The first connections we made when we arrived in this town was the library and it is no coincidence that Pk runs around yelling that she "LOVES THE LIBRARY" (we started doing Mother Goose programmes there and taking out board books when she was about 4 months old). Dh loves books as much as I do and there are piles of books everywhere. When we give out lists of things that we want as gifts, you can be sure that much of the lists will consist of the books that we want. I am the daughter of a librarian who worked in the public library through high school and a stunning university seminary library throughout university (see the gorgeous picture below - this is where I fell in love with the beauty of old books).

I can't imagine coming to a point when all of my reading is done on a screen. Personally, to begin with, my eyes don't like reading from a screen the way they enjoy a printed page. Yes, it would be convenient to be able to transport a library around with me (I tend to be reading several things at once most of the time, a novel, usually a mystery or a fiction series, at least two different books on Christianity and life of some kind of another, other something relating to parenting and then, of course, there is the plethora of cookbooks that rule my life...) but somehow, not being able to hold the paper and turn pages just makes me very sad.

There were two aspects of the discussion that made me VERY uncomfortable. The first was around children and bedtime stories. One of the panel members (can't remember her name) put forward that electronic readers would be better in the long run in terms of bedtime reading material for children because they would offer children choices that are more "interactive" - for instance, when reading a non-fiction text, children would be able to point to things on a page and link to games, more information, etc... and that it would be much more engaging. That may be true but for some reason, that concept fills me with fear. I will declare myself here - while I think that computers are a good source of information at times and while I love email and blogging, I don't actually believe that all of the screen time, particularly with the images that change so frequently, is good for children. I don't think that we know the impact of all of that radiation on little bodies, I have heard and read several research studies that would indicate that overuse of the screen is actually changing the structure of our childrens' brains and inhibiting their ability to concentrate or explore deeper concepts. I embrace the Piagetian belief that the best learning, especially in the early years, comes from physical interaction with the world. Passively pushing buttons on a screen goes against so much of what I believe about how children need to learn, how brains need to develop and, from a purely artistic point of view, how children learn to absorb the beauty of the world. There is a treasure and a heritage that comes from certain children's books, especially from those that are passed through the generations - I fear the loss of that. As I said above, though, I also deeply fear the health impact of all of the screen influences (and I have to wonder whether the explosion of autism and allergies has some kind of a connection to these changes over the last 20 or 30 years). Yes, o.k., half of you have dismissed me a paranoid and that's your right.

The other aspect of the discussion that I found really disturbing was that another of the panelists suggested that what may end up happening (and apparently is beginning to happen) is that only mass market, hugely successful authors will be published in paper form. Everything else would be limited to "publication" online where people would essentially be able to self-publish should they want to but it would only be once an author had reached a large enough audience that publishers would be willing to put out paper copies of the books. I didn't immediately grasp the implications of that until they raised the fact that with reader technology, books could be easily withdrawn - I gather that in the past, I think it was last year, there were books that had been posted for sale on Amazon and it came to light that the copyright on the books had been violated and Amazon simply withdrew them - people who had already purchased the books had them suddenly gone from their readers. I personally find that very scary. That allows for a new, aggressive kind of censorship that could lead to the complete and total loss of material that goes against the current thinking. I am not someone who is committed to the mass availability of every resource (you know how I feel about the Pearl's book, To Train Up a Child) but that doesn't mean that I want to see the complete erradication, just a limit of the public access without some kind of warning or control.

So, at least here, I won't be running out to buy a reader and I will continue to enjoy the feeling of the page in my hand. If anything, I think this will spur me on to try to buy more books. I want to possess a beloved library. I have a friend who once told us that when he visits someone's house, one of the first things he likes to do is to browse the bookshelves. He says that tells him a great deal about the person he is with. He told a story of going to a party at a colleague's from work and quickly realising that the colleague didn't have a single book evident in the house. He said that scared me. B, feel free to come and browse my bookshelf!


  1. I agree with much as I am trying to reduce the number of possessions I have (including books), some things just can't be replaced by a digital version. I feel the same way about mail... I love getting letters in the mail. For some reason they are more meaningful than email.

    I am fascinated by Kindle (or other like devices), and wouldn't mind owning one. But it would never replace all my books. I like being able to loan my books out to people, and I can't see people loaning their Kindles out!

    I love, love, love the library. I am a library addict and secretly wish I could be a librarian! I love being surrounded by books in our home... my girls have hundreds of books that we have mostly gotten at garage sales and thrift stores.

    As I research homeschool curricula, I am leaning toward the reading based programs because we all enjoy learning through reading so much.

    Speaking of books....I am reading The Hold in our Gospel right now (by Richard Stearns)... oh my's GOOD!!!

  2. I'm finding it interesting to see who's into them and who is not because a few of my most avid reader friends are all over them. Here's actually a bit of a roundup from my bookclub this month:

    The one thing I will grant the ereaders is that they are very different from computers, in that screens are not backlit, and they are more of a page-type reading experience. They are also not linked to anything more than books, so that whole notion of going on the internet to find related stuff is off.

    Still, I'm not into it. I agree with a lot of points about using newer media with kids - the fact is, attention spans have to be grown, learning to sit and focus is a skill they learn, and it greys the line between reading and playing or being entertained. It also, I think, lessens the relating experience of reading with a child, and doesn't allow for children to simply pick up books in their house to look at, which is important. (Been reading Mem Fox's Reading Magic today, btw).

    But I don't think of this in terms of kids so much at this point - even for me, I like a book. For reasons of cost, of tactile pleasure and easy scanning, for being portable without much concern of loss or damage, for the pleasure of a well-designed book as an object of beauty, and on and on, I think paper wins.

  3. I am not sure that I will never use an e-reader (never say never, otherwise I might end up looking like a hypocrite) but I must say, it isn't something that I am going to run out and buy. There is just something about an actual book - mind you, I am a knitter, too, and love the feel of the yarn and the ritual of knitting and it's not like it isn't easier to go out and buy a sweater.
    Isn't Mem Fox WONDERFUL????