Friday, March 18, 2011

The Buggywhip Defense League

I'm a big fan of buggy whips, and you just can't find anywhere to buy them anymore.  Sad, really.

In recent weeks I've been accused of being a Luddite, a snob, a hipster, and a Luddite hipster snob.  Just because I prefer printed books to the digital ones.  Or was it for whining too much about Daylight Saving Time?

Might have been both.

Earlier today, someone sent me a link which implies I'm a "Book Fetishist", which has implications I don't care to delve into here.  Though here's a hint to the guys who wrote that: you're not going to win a booklover's heart by handing them a gutted book unless it was used to smuggle another book into the former Soviet Union or something.

Preferably with the smuggled book still inside.

I do love books.  I love the sensory experience of them and feel that I retain more of the text reading paper rather than the screen, but contrary to what is apparently a popular belief, I'm not anti e-book. Being anti e-book would be like being anti paperback. In point of fact, I'm fully in favor of someone making this digital marginalia idea from the New York Times a reality with all due haste.

If they do that, I will be first in line for my ticket.  Please make it available for the Kobo.

I am blessed with a personal library that runs into the thousands of books, some of which I inherited, some of which were gifts and some of which I bought when I was a bookseller and could get them at a steep discount.  I grew up surrounded by them and cannot imagine a house that feels homey without them.  Not everyone has that luxury and not everyone has the space to store them properly even if they can acquire such a collection.  Electronic formats allow someone to acquire such a collection at a significantly lower cost in terms of both money and space.

I don't think that any booklover in his right mind would begrudge someone that joy over a simple matter of silicon & pixels versus paper & ink.

Just mind those user's agreements.  Read it before you click "I agree".  Know what you're signing away in terms of rights and privileges, because you're not getting them back.

The part of the digital domain that does bother me is the part that eliminates bookstores.  And mayhap that does make me a Luddite or one of the other things I've been called.  Nevertheless, I posit that the ecosystem that grew up in support of the written word is not the Cult of the Buggywhip as it is often portrayed.  It was the support system that gave rise to our literary culture. A support system which at present, no one has presented a replacement for it that seems to have the chops to go the distance.

I'm not actually talking about publishing.  Publishing will evolve and the publishers will evolve or not as their survival instincts dictate.  Publishing will find a way to survive, they always do.  I'm talking about bookstores.  Indies, Barnes & Noble, Borders, the lot of them.

Only recently has the Googlebooks launch made it possible to buy e-books from my local bookstore (and this time I am talking about the indie bookstores such as our beloved local independant Elliot Bay)
There's nothing wrong with reading books on an e-reader any more than there's anything wrong with listening to music on an MP-3 player, but I'm not a fan of leasing any of my media.  And while the comparison between music and books is tenuous at times, I mention music specifically because of the death of the independent music store that used to be a part of the culture of every city.

To throw that away in the name of convenience is a crying shame.  When you throw out the bathwater, don't be surprised if you look down and the baby's no longer there.

And if that makes me a Luddite, a hipster, or a snob, then so be it.

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).