art / bookshops / e-publishing / novel / publication / used books / video

The Power of Words and the Paper They’re Printed on

Write the right thing. I found this video over at angelinelajeunesse. I don’t know her blog well, yet, but I came across her on a facebook group–writers unboxed. Come join me over there sometime.

Anyway, how you word things obviously matters or you wouldn’t write. And the words we choose shape our perceptions. If the written word didn’t matter, why would we fight so over holy books? And how many writers would want their words changed by an editor?

I’ve been sharing a lot of words about the whole self-publish or traditionally published debate. I rule out nothing for my future. Ruling out anything for the future would be foolish since we have no idea what the future will look like.

This discussion has brought my debating side. There are people I can never debate with. What is it about some people you can debate with and still be friends, and other people any disagreement is like a death? I don’t know. But this publishing debate has given me lots to think about.

I’m a romantic when it comes to books.

My grandmother lived across the street from a bowling alley. If you walked through the bowling alley’s parking lot to the main boulevard and dashed across, you would be at a strip mall complete with Publix, Duff’s Smorgasboard, and Daper Dan’s ice cream parlor. The shopping center also had a gift shop. The gift shop sold the usual trinkets, candles, wind chimes, and cards. They also had a corner of books.

I would get permission to walk over by myself and then sit on the floor in front of section of books and spend an unreasonable amount of time deciding which book to spend my few dollars on. I read the backs of many paperbacks, pick my favorites, and set them down on the floor. With books in a row on the floor, I sat cross-legged and stared at the covers. I loved this cover and that cover. Eventually, I had both books, and sometimes I would stop reading just to look at the cover.

And in 2000 my husband and I were in New Orleans. Across from our hotel was a used bookshop. It was dim, dusty, tiny bookshop. We spent an afternoon scanning the shelves. I was crawling on my knees, investigating piles and boxes of books. Going back to where I started to look over the shelves again in case I missed something. I’d pull books from underneath others to see what the book really was. After much inner turmoil I picked Salman Rushdie’s book on The Wizard of Oz. The man sitting on a stool at the counter said, “You love books.”

“Oh, I do.”

“I could tell by the way you kept looking over each shelf, really looking. You’ll love your books,” he said.

And then there came the day I found a book I’d been searching for for years. I found it in a used bookshop in Chapel Hill, and when I saw it, I squealed. I ran to my friend, jumped up and down and caused quite a few heads to turn. “OH MY GOD!! I LOVE THIS BOOK!!” After embarrassing my friend, I leapt to the counter and was still jumping up and down when I paid for it. I hugged the book to my chest. And I discovered it was signed.

If my apartment caught on fire right now and I could save only one book, this would be the one.

Physical books are artifacts. What will we leave behind in this digital age? What treasures will we find scrolling down a screen? I guess every generation has to moan the passing of what they know. My son has many books, but surely he will grow up more comfortable with e-books, but I don’t think I’m ever going to hug a Kindle.

But who knows?

When the world is digital, what will you miss?

4 thoughts on “The Power of Words and the Paper They’re Printed on

  1. People use the media that is most available to them. In ancient times, it was parchment or leather leaves bound in scrolls. No one misses that.

    Do you miss traveling by horse and buggy? Washing clothes in a river? Black-and-white pictures or movies? Using an outhouse?

    Every age brings with it new ways of doing things, and the old ways often pass. You can still take a carriage ride if you’d like, but it’s not the standard means of transportation anymore.

    Traditional publishing is dying. There will always be books of some kind, just like there are still carriage rides. But Kodak doesn’t make black-and-white film anymore, and print books will one day no longer be the principle reading media. The future waits for no one and doesn’t care whether or not we like it’s arrival.

    I love print books, don’t get me wrong. But they are a pain to pack, store, and move around, and can get moldy and dusty. I can’t wait to get a Kindle. That will certainly make lugging around 3500 books a heck of a lot easier!

    • All true. Although, I love black and white photography and had my wedding pictures taken in black and white.

      Of course things leave. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mourn them. Each thing that passes meant something–provided certain jobs too–and I just don’t feel like shrugging my shoulders and saying, “Well, that’s over and done!” That doesn’t mean clinging to them or disavowing the new things coming, but taking time to acknowledge that with everything gained something is lost. That’s all I’m saying.

      At the very least, jobs will be lost. And I don’t mean just the jobs of the agents and editors but all the people who they employ and the people who work where books are printed and the booksellers and the drivers and all the people who make the industry work who have nothing to do with what gets chosen to be published. And yes the kindle will provide jobs, but not the same ones. I don’t look at people whose jobs have been outsourced to China and say, “Oh well. Times change.” They do change, but that doesn’t mean it is fun for the people who left behind.

      So something is lost and something is gained. E-books will make it easier for more people to read, they’ll save the lives of trees, they’ll mean nothing need go out of print, and they’ll make the length of a book less of an issue since we won’t need to use all that paper.

      But my paper book doesn’t require a battery and no corporation can delete it from my account. Paper books can be passed around in secret. But ebooks can be passed around to more people at once. But a gov’t might be able to block access to ebooks. The govt would have to come to my house, find, and burn a paper book. Ebooks mean having access to any book anywhere! Paper books provide a certain sensory experience.

      There was a time when only a select few could read. And when girls were not taught to read let alone write. The printed book actually has to tiny second of history in the grand scheme of things. The printed book took away the jobs of scribes. No more Illuminated pages.

      But this is a separate issue from self-publishing. Ebooks make self-publishing more viable for more people. But a traditionally published novel will now have an e-version. And there are too many paper books in the world right now for them to disappear overnight. They’ll be around for a long time before they fade away.

  2. We will be finding treasures like the one you describe for many years after the decline of print books. And like Fal said, they won’t ever be completely gone. But I do worry printed books will become such a novelty that they will cost a small fortune and therefore be inaccessible to many.

    I’ll miss bookmarks. As I go through my day I’ll often pass by my current read-in-progress, and the bookmark sticking out reminds me I’ll be re-entering that world. Gives me a little spark of anticipation. Plus the bookmarks you choose can say something about your personality.

    • I like bookmarks in theory but not so much in practice–I lose them. My bookmarks is usually the nearest scrap of paper. But there is the Law of Unintended Consequences. Every new thing that comes along, and every passing of something old brings about change–and while we can predict certain things there are bound to be effects for good and for ill we have not yet imagined.

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