The Death of the Book

Ursula K. Le Guin -- Photo by Marian Wood Kolischby Ursula K. Le Guin

People love to talk about the death of whatever — the book, or history, or Nature, or God, or authentic Cajun cuisine. Eschatologically-minded people do, anyhow.

After I wrote that, I felt pleased with myself, but uneasy. I went and looked up eschatological. I knew it didn’t mean what scatological means, even though they sound exactly alike except eschatological has one more syllable, but I thought it had to do only with death. I didn’t realise it concerns not one thing but The Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. If it included scatology too, it would be practically the whole ball of wax.

Anyhow, the eschatologists’ judgment is that the book is going to die and go to heaven or hell, leaving us to the mercy of Hollywood and our computer screens.

There certainly is something sick about the book industry, but it seems closely related to the sickness affecting every industry that, under pressure from a corporate owner, dumps product standards and long-range planning in favor of ‘predictable’ sales and short-term profits.

As for books themselves, the changes in book technology are cataclysmic. Yet it seems to me that rather than dying, “the book” is growing — taking on a second form and shape, the ebook.

This is a vast, unplanned change that’s as confusing, uncomfortable, and destructive as most unplanned changes. Certainly it’s putting huge strain on all the familiar channels of book publication and acquisition, from the publishers, distributors, book stores, and libraries, to the reader who’s afraid that the latest best seller, or perhaps all literature, will suddenly pass him by if he doesn’t rush out and buy an electronic device to read it on.

But that’s it, isn’t it? — that’s what books are about — reading?

Is reading obsolete, is the reader dead?

Dear reader: How are you doing? I am fairly obsolete, but by no means, at the moment, dead.

Dear reader: Are you reading at this moment? I am, because I’m writing this, and it’s very hard to write without reading, as you know if you ever tried it in the dark.

Dear reader: What are you reading on? I’m writing and reading on my computer, as I imagine you are. (At least, I hope you’re reading what I’m writing, and aren’t writing “What Tosh!” in the margin. Though I’ve always wanted to write “What Tosh!” in a margin ever since I read it years ago in the margin of a library book. It was such a good description of the book.)

Reading is undeniably one of the things people do on the computer. And also, on the various electronic devices that are capable of and may be looked upon as “for” telephoning, taking photographs, playing music and games, etc, people may spend a good while texting sweetiepie, or looking up recipes for authentic Cajun gumbo, or checking out the stock report — all of which involve reading. People use computers to play games or wander through picture galleries or watch movies, and to do computations and make spreadsheets and pie charts, and a few lucky ones get to draw pictures or compose music, and so on, but mostly, am I wrong? isn’t an awful lot of what people do with computers either word-processing (writing) or processing words (reading)?

How much of anything can you do in the e-world without reading? The use of any computer above the toddler-entertainment level is dependent on at least some literacy in the user. Operations can be learned mechanically, but still, the main element of a keyboard is letters, and icons take you only so far. Texting may have replaced all other forms of verbality for some people, but texting is just a primitive form of writing: you can’t do it unless you no u frm i, lol.

It looks to me as if people are in fact reading and writing more than they ever did. People who used to work and talk together now work each alone in a cubicle, writing and reading all day long on screen. Communication that used to be oral, face to face or on the telephone, is now written, emailed, and read.

None of that has much to do with book-reading, true; yet it’s hard for me to see how the death of the book is to result from the overwhelming prevalence of a technology that makes reading a more invaluable skill than it ever was.

Ah, say the eschatologists, but it’s competition from the wondrous, endless everything-else-you-can-do-on-your-iPad – competition is murdering the book!

Could be. Or it might just make readers more discriminating. A recent article in the NY Times (“Finding Your Book Interrupted … By the Tablet You Read It On” by Julie Bosman and Matt Richtel, March 4, 2012) quoted a woman in Los Angeles: “With so many distractions, my taste in books has really leveled up…. Recently, I gravitate to books that make me forget I have a world of entertainment at my fingertips. If the book’s not good enough to do that, I guess my time is better spent.” Her sentence ends oddly, but I think it means that she prefers reading an entertaining book to activating the world of entertainment with her fingertips. Why does she not consider books part of this world of entertainment? Maybe because the book, even when activated by her fingertips, entertains her without the moving, flickering, twitching, jumping, glittering, shouting, thumping, bellowing, screaming, blood-spattering, ear-splitting, etc, that we’ve been led to identify as entertainment. In any case, her point is clear: if a book’s not as entertaining — on some level, not necessarily the same level — as the jumping, thumping, bleeding, etc, then why read it? Either activate the etc, or find a better book. As she puts it, level up.


When we hear about the death of the book, it might be a good idea to ask what “the book” is. Are we talking about people ceasing to read books, or about what they read the books on — paper or a screen?

Reading on a screen is certainly different from reading a page. I don’t think we yet understand what the differences are. They may be considerable, but I doubt that they’re so great as to justify giving the two kinds of reading different names, or saying that an ebook isn’t a book at all.

If “the book” means only the book as physical object, its death, to some devotees of the Internet, may be a matter for rejoicing — hurray! we’re rid of another nasty heavy bodily Thing with a copyright on it! — But mostly it’s the occasion of lament and mourning. People to whom the pysicality of the book printed on paper is important, sometimes more important than the contents — those who value them for their binding, paper, and typography, buy fine editions, make collections — and the many who simply take pleasure in holding and handling the book they’re reading, are naturally distressed by the idea that the book on paper will be totally replaced by the immaterial text in a machine.

I can only suggest, don’t agonize — organize! No matter how the corporations bluster and bully and bury us in advertising, the consumer always has the option of resistance. We don’t get steamrollered by a new technology unless we lie down in front of the the steamroller.

The steamroller is certainly on the move. Some kinds of printed book are already being replaced by e-books. The mass market paperback edition is threatened by the low-cost e-book edition. Good news for those who like to read on a screen, bad news for those who don’t, or like to buy from Abebooks and A-libris or to pounce on 75-cent beat-up secondhand mysteries. But if the lovers of the material book are serious about valuing good binding and paper and design as essential to their reading pleasure, they will provide a visible, steady market for well-made hard-cover and paperback editions: which the book industry, if it has the sense of a sowbug, will meet. The question is whether the book industry does have the sense of a sowbug. Some of its behavior lately leads one to doubt. But let us hope. And there’s always the “small publisher,” the corporation-free independent, many of which are as canny as can be.


Other outcries about the death of the book have more to do with the direct competition with reading offered on the Internet. The book is being murdered by the etc at our fingertips.

Here “the book” usually refers to literature. At the moment, I thik the DIY manual, or the cookbook, the guide to this or that, are the kinds of book most often replaced by information on a screen. The Encyclopedia Britannica just died, a victim, as it were, of Google. I don’t think I’ll bury our Eleventh Edition just yet, though; the information in it, being a product of its time (a hundred years ago), can be valuably different from that furnished by the search engine, which is also a product of its time. The annual encyclopedias of films/directors/actors were killed a few years ago by information sites on the Net — very good sites, though not as much fun to get lost in as the book was. We keep our 2003 edition because being outselves ancient, we use it more efficiently than we do any site, and it’s still useful and entertaining even if dead — more than you can say of the corpse of almost anything but a book.

I’m not sure why anyone, no matter how much they like to think about the End Times, believes that the Iliad or Jane Eyre or the Bhagavad Gita is dead or about to die. They have far more competition than they used to, yes; people may see the movie and think they know what the book is; they can be displaced by the etc; but nothing can replace them. So long as people are taught to read (which may or may not happen in our underfunded schools), and particularly if they’re taught what there is to read, and how to read it intelligently (extensions of the basic skill now often omitted in our underfunded schools), some of them will prefer reading to activating the etc. They will read books (on paper or on a screen) as literature.

And they will try to ensure that the books continue to exist, because continuity is an essential aspect of literature and knowledge. Books occupy time in a different way than most art and entertainment. In longevity perhaps only sculpture in stone outdoes them.

And here the issue of electronic and print on paper has to re-enter the discussion. On the permanence of what is in books, much of the lasting transmission of human culture still relies. It’s possible that highest and most urgent value of the printed book may be its mere, solid, stolid permanence.

I’ll be talking now not about “the book” in America in 2012 so much as about how things are all over the world in the many places where electricity may be available only to the rich, or intermittent, or non-existent; and how things may be in fifty years or five centuries, if we continue to degrade and destroy our habitat at the present rate.

The ease of reproducing an ebook and sending it all over the place can certainly secure its permanence, so long as the machine to read it on can be made and turned on. I think it’s well to remember, though, that electric power is not to be counted on in quite the same way sunlight is.

Easy and infinite copiability also involves a certain risk. The text of the book on paper can’t be altered without separately and individually altering every copy in existence, and alteration leaves unmistakable traces. With e-texts that have been altered, deliberately or by corruption (pirated texts are often incredibly corrupt), if the author is dead, establishing an original, authentic, correct text may be impossible. And the more piracies, abridgments, mash-ups, etc are tolerated, the less people will understand that textual integrity matters.

People to whom texts matter, such as readers of poetry or scientific monographs, know that the integrity of the text is essential. Our non-literate ancestors knew it. The three-year-old being read to demands it. You must recite the words of the poem exactly as you learned them or it will lose its power. — Daddy! You read it wrong! It says “did not” not “didn’t!”

The physical book may last for centuries; even a cheap paperback on pulp paper takes decades to degrade into unreadability. Continuous changes of technology, upgrades, corporate takeovers, leave behind them a debris of texts unreadable on any available machine. And an e-text has to be periodically recopied to keep it from degrading. People who archive them are reluctant to say how often, because it varies a great deal; but as anyone with email files over a few years old knows, the progress into entropy can be rapid. A university librarian told me that, as things are now, they expect to recopy every electronic text the library owns, every eight to ten years, indefinitely.

If we decided to replace the content of our libraries entirely with electronic archives, at this stage of the technology, a worst-case scenario would have informational and literary texts being altered without our consent or knowledge, reproduced or destroyed without our permission, rendered unreadable by the technology that printed them, and, unless regularly recopied and redistributed, fated within a few years or decades to turn inexorably into garble or simply blink out of existence.

But that’s assuming the technology won’t improve and stabilize. In any case, why should we go into either/or mode? It’s seldom necessary and often destructive (look at Congress.)

Maybe the e-reader and the electricity to run it will become available to everyone forever. That would be grand. But as things are or are likely to be, having books available in two different forms can only be a good thing, now and in the long run.

I do believe that, despite the temptations at our fingertips, there’s an obstinate, durable minority of people who, having learned to read, will go on reading books, however and wherever they can find them, on pages or screens. And because people who read books mostly want to share them, and feel however obscurely that sharing them is important, they’ll see to it that, however and wherever, the books are there for the next generation(s).

Human generations, that is — not technological generations. At the moment, the computer generation has shortened to about the life span of the gerbil, and might yet rival the fruitfly.

The life span of a book is more like that of the horse, or the human being, sometimes the oak, even the redwood. Which is why it seems a good idea, rather than mourning their death, to rejoice that books now have two ways of staying alive, getting passed on, enduring, instead of only one.


26 March 2012

City of the Plain, by Ursula K. Le Guin

A poem from The Wild Girls, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Play the Podcast of “City of the Plain.”

PM Press Outspoken Authors #06, May 1, 2011



The Death of the Book — 42 Comments

  1. I certainly wouldn’t wish to write “What tosh!” in the margin of this article; but is it very wrong of me to wish for that general ability in the next version of my browser? It is comparatively wasted on physical pages. This new-awakened longing may not easily be quenched.

  2. In yesterday’s Washington POST there is an article about the school system in South Korea. A few years ago they decided to phase out paper textbooks and make all the pupils use e-texts. After grinding it around for a while they are rethinking the issue; it is not clear that e textbooks are an improvement or aid learning as well as paper books.

  3. As someone who just yesterday trudged to the local big box book store to purchase a novel to read and a bread baking text to wander through I for one am not proclaiming Books Dead. In spite of my handy little Nook and iPad I still love the feel and smell of a book in my hands. It is visceral, a way to relive my youth through memories of long hours spent in libraries, which were havens of safety. I do my little bit to keep books in print form alive.

    Dave F.

  4. This is a lovely take on the issue and covers something I try to get across to people: ebooks will not eliminate books anymore than TV eliminated radio or movies eliminated theatre. There will always be beautiful books that we want to own and cherish and show off, but for throwaway books we read in a sitting, they no longer have to take up space on a shelf. Students may have one ereader in their backpack instead of 40 lbs. of textbooks.

    I do take issue with one thing. You are not obsolete, dear Ursula, and never will be. As any great writer, you are immortal and will live on forever in the hearts and minds of we, your readers. Computers, technologies, civilizations, these things come and go, but stories remain.

  5. Reading actual books is physically satisfying. Is this some stage of development that Freud overlooked? How can books die while they feel so good?

    I was recently in the stacks at the local college library. Yes, a whole unbelievably enormous room full of books, most quite old. If there had been some decent food and a few trees and animals it would have been exactly like heaven.

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  7. I suspect paper books may become something of a luxury item – I find myself reading so much more fiction on my Kindle now, because I can buy an eBook without having yet more dead tree cluttering up the house (and frankly if you took all the stuff out of my house, you’d find more dead tree than anything else there). My house simply cannot hold any more. Regarding the copying to avoid entropy – this is something that happens as a matter of course, but unlike Monks copying out vellums there are rarely if ever any errors in transcription, & the use of an MD5 hash checksum (which can be generated for literally any kind of file) ensures continued reliability. The “death” of the book isn’t so much a death as a retirement into the same kind of realm as vellum parchment scrolls have passed – something to use for books that have great reverential significance maybe, where the physical thing in itself is worth far, far more than the space it occupies – like a gilt-edged family bible with the names of one’s ancestors inscribed within, the Torah in a synagogue, or the Guru Granth Sahib in a Gurdwara – a thing to be treasured.

  8. i think it is only a matter of time until digital storage media with archival durability are developed. However, it will remain much cheaper to produce and distribute ebooks than old style books.

    That may be more of a concern to publishers than to authors and readers. In the past, publishers had something valuable to offer — specialized hardware to print books and channels to distribute them. Now, it’s less clear to me that authors need publishers. I suspect over time that authors and readers will find creative ways to cut greedy middle men out of the loop, and that publishers that want to survive will have to settle for lower margins or find new ways to provide value.

  9. Brava, Ursula,
    Heartening and funny, seriously funny, as ever, cheering on the readers and the writers of the world, which are many. Obsolete? Never think it.
    Write on!

  10. Have you heard of the “long now foundation”, they are taking the idea of long term passing on of information very seriously.

    The trouble with e-readers is not the device but the lack of outside the box thinking in its implementation and appropriately supporting those who provide the content.

    I have great hopes for the nano scale 3d printing devices and holographic information storage. That would mean storage devices that are not easily damaged and only require a light source(ie the sun).

    Like the use of vellum compared to paper, print to electronic is a step up in a myriad ways as long as we have people willing to archive and protect the information. The enemies of knowledge are not only those natural enemies like the environment but also those who prune or expunge history to suit their own ends.

    Many political entities have done this in the past and will continue to do so as long as they think they can get away with it. The net neutrality concept is one that should be encouraged and the MPAA motives discouraged as anti-society. They are after an unending control of content and discouragement of self management or empowerment, this does not allow for growth.

    Books are not static and information technology should continue forward despite the affection dinosaurs like myself may have.

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  16. This is fantastic. And I’ll add to previous commenters that not only are you a brilliant writer whose work will far outlive you… you are one badass essayist.

  17. Thanks for this wonderful essay. May it go viral among librarians and writers alike. And teachers. And readers. And leaders. It’s important for us all to take a breath and think about the word in all of its forms.

  18. Some very interesting points, especially about the durability/integrity of physical form over electronic. I’ll have to think about some of this (esp. as at one point I oversaw a website that made available ancient manuscripts online — interpreting what was on these manuscripts was not always that straightforward, and the greatly increased accessibility to these documents to people across the globe was a huge plus). There’s a tradeoff between accessibility and integrity, and both are desireable in different contexts.

    Note that it’s not an issue about *copying*, quite. It’s an issue about upgrading the medium they are stored on. Consider music: it’s been stored on vinyl, then CD’s, and increasingly in assorted digital formats. Each time, if you had a collection of music, you had to rebuild your collection as new technologies and new players became available. Same thing with storage devices. Copying itself is relatively easy (in fact so much so that other issues such as copyright and piracy rear their head). In one sense, that duplication also ensures against losing something completely. In fact, it’s a well known issue that putting somethign up online pretty much means you can never *remove* it from the internets, either.

    But it’s quite true that, for example, we are losing a good deal of the data collected by different satellites and probes by NASA in the 70’s because they have not transferred/copied this data onto accessible, current media. And now both the currently stored media is degrading, and the players for those media are breaking down and not easily replaced or fixed.

    Your offhand comment about “typing in the dark” kind of ignores that blind people do quite well communicating online.

    As a deaf person, myself, who has been online for more than 20 years, I have to say the internet is increasingly *less* oriented toward reading as we carry on. By which I mean to say the increased use of audio and visual materials makes things increasingly inaccessible to me — Youtube and Podcasting are but a few examples. So I have no doubt that for some, reading while being on a computer or being online can be nearly if not completely eliminated…


  19. I wonder if anyone bemoaned the ‘death’ of stone tablets, or vellum scrolls?

    I adore physical books- and have a couple of thousand of them under my own roof. But it’s occurred to me that even though I purchase fewer physical books today, I read more than I ever did. And that’s what matters to me- the reading. Be it a stone tablet, scratchings on beach sand, ink on paper, or pixels on a screen, I’ll read it. If it’s important, I’ll find some way to digitally archive it. Or, I’ll print it out.

    I do worry, as some already are- about the rapid obselescense and disintegration of our current media. One giant solar storm could erase or seriously damage much of our electronics and files, rendering them useless. We need the digital equivalent of a stone tablet for our more important documents.

    I still like ink on paper. No batteries needed, doesn’t crash, and the seller can’t yank it back. But I have room for new things. And digital files take up little space.

  20. As an avid reader dealing with a progressive visual impairment, electronic books have been a gift to me (though the e-readers and associated software leave quite a bit to be desired re: accessibility): as stated in the January issue of “Braille Monitor”, “[…] blind and other print-disabled users, for the first time in history, gain access to the same books and publications at the same price and at the same time as the rest of society.”

    I adore printed books. But my choice now, in too many cases, is between having the physical artifact and having the story: large-print editions simply don’t exist for much of the work that interests me; if they’re available they’re expensive and they don’t fit in standard bookcases. Much of Ms. Le Guin’s own work is inaccessible to me now, and I mourn the loss of the companions of my childhood.

  21. Television was supposed to kill the film industry. IPods were supposed to kill the music industry.

    If the publishing industry can take a lead from what happened in the music industry, physical books will survive in some form and not everyone will be surprised by it or go out of business, although your music provider might be the more forward looking Apple and Amazon and not EMI or RCA. You may have to acquire the reading equivalent of an iPod to read EVERYTHING you want because there will be some things that will be hard to find in a physical form. This is already true in music.

    Maybe the iPod and similar devices are not ubiquitous yet, but I find that most people who don’t have one are not big music consumers.

    As far as books as collectibles, there will always be some, just as there will be some cds and records. There is actually a flourishing but niche industry in vinyl records for those who like to collect these or consider them superior to digital media. In the book industry small presses with genre orientations that produce fine book editions seem to be doing quite well also, particularly the ones that realize what they can do with ebooks also. I liken these to the vinyl record industry. In fact, some people that like to collect physical books will buy the book plus the ebook edition because they don’t want to throw it in the back seat of the car, take it to the beach, etc.

    As for losing the ability to read the new electronic media in the future, People still build machines to play piano rolls, film optical sound tracks, vinyl records and Edison cylinders, cds, celluloid films, and convert these to the new media. Some of these physical forms of art are more tenuous than digital media. This will continue as technology evolves. Most turntables now come with an a-to-d converter and a USB port. The music and film industry still makes a lot of money off people updating their “old media” music and video (I include online streaming here) collections.

    As far as access is concerned, I bet a lot of people in China have access to a computer or a smart phone that never had access (and still don’t) to a functioning lending library. People in the bush in Tanzania never had James Patterson’s latest novel as well as any electricity.

  22. I’m wondering if it will be too long before we worry that the ink-reader is dead. With the popularity of iPads and KindleFires, we seem to be leaning toward the gizmos and gadgets our eReader can provide. What would be sad is if the reader no longer stops and sits and JUST reads without distraction.

  23. Great article, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I spend so much time in front of a computer screen that I think I’d hate getting into bed with an e-reader . . . I so look forward to turning printed pages each evening whereas I think to stare at an additional electronic device would just make me crazy, regardless of content. So, while I’m glad for the invention and growth of the e-reader, I certainly hope paperbacks stick around for many years to come.

  24. Books won’t die, but they will be less popular. No doubt people read less now than they did prior to the advent of movies & of TV. Video entertainment is unlikely to replace books any more than it already has. People will play interactive games instead of read in increasing numbers as the generations that grew up without games die off. Interactive multi-media works that combine text, audio & video are still rare but are likely to be more popular in the future.

  25. The ebook revolution is about power, plain and simple. The publishers who have been in control of the industry for hundreds of years are now losing their power, becoming less important in the process of providing content to the public. They’re losing their high rise lifestyle and authors who self-publish are moving in. Physical books in the new paradigm will still be available POD through places like createspace and lulu, so to bemoan the death of the physical book is premature. Typically publishers destroy almost half of the books produced, so POD is cheaper and better for the environment. In almost every way the new paradigm is better, except for traditional publishers…

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  27. Thank you for your thoughts! I think I read as much now as I did ten or twenty years ago, but now it’s a mixture of paper books and ebooks, on my laptop, e-reader or phone. What has changed is that I have been discovering new authors and books via the internet rather than at the public library. Our house is full of books, mostly bought second hand, but I do enjoy being able to read a couple of pages of something on my iPhone in snatched moments at work, in a queue, or in the dark.

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  31. What was that whole ball of wax about? That eschatology is to scatology as e-book is to book? It had to be something more sophisticated, but I did not understand.

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  33. Because I enjoyed Ursula LeGuin’s death of books essay, I’d like to add a “yes, and …” (as opposed to a “no, but…) response.

    My book, The Astreya Trilogy, is published by a “canny small publisher” Fireship Press, which specializes in nautical history and fiction about the great days of sail. (Parenthetically, Fireship is a legitimate publisher, not a vanity press. They take the risk of editing, designing, formatting and printing. Fireship authors don’t pay a cent; they receive royalties. Though none of us is rich, we like it this way.)

    Recently, Fireship bought up the novels of Henty and Marryat, two nineteenth century writers of sturdy yarns about the sea, whose books had for many years been almost unobtainable anywhere save for estate sales and rare book stores. All of a sudden, you can download and read (or in my case, re-read) these stories that otherwise would be forgotten. Fireship has done the same for a series on great Canadians that has been long out of print, allowing us to read what another generation thought about important figures in history. Historians professional and amateur alike appreciate this kind of access to documents that otherwise might only be found in a very few university libraries.

    Obviously, such books are not best sellers. They don’t have to be for Fireship to keep them in digital potential (as opposed to “in print”). Go to their website and download at will, or order your paperback edition, wait a week or so, when you will receive a print run of your single copy. From Fireship’s point of view, this makes perfect economic sense, because (and this is the joy of print on demand) there are none of the warehousing costs, nothing gets pulped, nothing is returned.

    From my point of view as an author, publication with Fireship confers an immortality not found in mass-market paperbacks that are here today and pulped tomorrow. As long as there is a computer with my book on it, people can buy it in digital or paper format, their choice.

    A final advantage. Like many a writer before me, I have noticed a few words and phrases in Book I of The Astreya Trilogy that I would like to improve. If I want to, I can pay a fee of $100 to re-open the electronic master file and have a tecnician silently make the corrections. No new edition, print run, cancellation or insertion of errata pages.

    I confess, however, I did not really believe I had been published until I had lined up all three volumes on my mantlepiece and stared enraptured at them for longer than I care to admit.

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  35. That’s great, does this mean we will finally see your Earthsea books in Kindle format please? And the rest of your books as well?

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  37. What a treat to discover this article. Thank you.
    I don’t mind how I read as long as books keep coming.
    Since getting my e-reader I’ve tentatively downloaded quite a few books and found it a wonderful way to take lots of books everywhere but at the same time, find myself compulsively buying dozens of paper books from a subconscious anxiety that they may cease to be available at manageable prices as e-book publishing takes hold. And from a fear that my kindle might run out of power in a power cut. I want both and while I have no fear that the supply of e-books will dwindle – for a while anyway – I do worry that paper books might become harder to obtain.
    And I have collections of favourite authors – yours for one – and while I want new works on the kindle, I also want my paper collection to be complete. I just want it all!

  38. I love to read. My mother used to say that I wouldn’t eat the cereal if I’d already read the box. I read trade publications while waiting for interviews. I read the wrapper on the the toilet paper. If there’s a letter or a diagram on it, I read it.
    So, I’m getting gimpy, I have bookcases and cardboard boxes and reusable grocery bags and leaning towers of paperbacks of all kinds (except self-help and celebrity bios) everywhere and I began to fear that someday they would find my dessicated remains under a slimey, soapy mountain of books so I caved and bought and ereader. Oh, I still buy books (some authors I like don’t do epublishing, some seriously overcharge for it so I just wait for the paperback.) I had to give up hardbacks years ago since my wrists won’t support them but I refuse to give up reading and my little plastic stand and my backlit ereader let me read even during a power outage. I do miss people stopping to ask what book I’m reading or to give me their opinion on my choice or to make a related recommendation and I can no longer pass them on to young waitpersons willy-nilly. But I am no longer pursued by nightmares of my death by paper.
    P.S. One concern, as is true for magnetic and optic media as well, is that when civilization collapses, all our knowledge will be inaccessible. Wax recording are available to anyone with a rubber bladder and a needle. Books are available to anyone with a lexicon (as we can see with things like the Dead Sea Scrolls.) But epubished material lives only as long as the electronic world does. Try and read a six inch floppy. I dare you! Try and view a Betamax tape! At least on magnetic tape, with a certain solution and a magnifying glass, you can read the on and off bits and maybe, if you have a hex code pamphlet, figure out what’s on it. Maybe. But a CD, an MP3, a DVD – not readable by purely human eyes.

  39. Come on! Broader, earlier, more basic! The “audible” books keep getting left out — why is that? My cousins who take long trips throw in DVD versions of all their favorites. Commuters on the bus every morning have books and podcasts on those little metal wafers in their pockets. In fact, I see some podcasts noted on this blog. Graphic books (like comics) are so popular that the bookstores have to keep them behind the counter. And after supper I expect to settle in to watch “Game of Thrones” which I read part of earlier. We weave ourselves in and out of print in every form, esp. stories, which are only part of what might be in print. (Where’s that muffin recipe?) Of course, the truly hooked read cereal boxes and the “made in” labels on their underwear.

    Prairie Mary

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